“Yeah, I feel like I kind of lost it, my physical game,” Siegenthaler said in January. “You know, nowadays you go stick and puck and you want to try to transition as quick as possible so you don’t want to go for the big hit and get stuck there. … But you got to find good timing, too. Definitely something I can do a bit more of is use more of my body.”
That effort has been noticeable the past couple of months. Part of that involves the matchups he and Radko Gudas face as the Capitals’ third defensive pairing.
Often, the pair will end up seeing more of the opposition’s third and fourth lines, which tend to play more physically. Siegenthaler said he tries to watch Gudas for how he times hits on opponents and to gauge when it makes sense to go after something bigger.
“Sometimes you go in for the hit, the guy maneuvers and you don’t catch the guy, and you don’t want it to happen to you,” Siegenthaler said. “You got to time it, too; it is not easy.”
One of the most recent examples of Siegenthaler’s increased physicality was in the early stages of the Capitals’ 2-0 win over Carolina at Capital One Arena on Jan. 13. In one of the first shifts of the game, Siegenthaler came flying in and drilled Ryan Dzingel close to the boards and then gained possession of the puck.
Another was also against the Hurricanes, on Dec. 28, when he had a big hit on Jordan Martinook along the boards. The night prior, he got in his first NHL fight against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nick Foligno appeared frustrated with a Tom Wilson hit. On the next shift, Foligno started cross-checking Siegenthaler high, and the two dropped the gloves.
“He is a big, strong guy that can handle himself, and I think he has done a really good job of that,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “I think one of his responsibilities is killing penalties, and there are net-front battles all the time. Obviously, you are outnumbered in those situations and you have to be hard in those areas, and I think that is something that he has gotten better with."
Gudas, who has made a name for himself in the NHL with his gritty, physical, aggressive play, said he has noticed an uptick in physicality from Siegenthaler. Gudas acknowledged how being a physical defenseman in the league is “obviously tough” but applauded his young partner’s instincts.
“He’s been playing really physical lately, and I’m really enjoying it,” Gudas said.
Gudas points to Siegenthaler’s time at the start of the season when he was paired with John Carlson as a good jumping-off point. Gudas and Siegenthaler are communicating constantly on the ice to know when to jump in a rush but also when to not get out of the structure and allow the opponent a free odd-man rush.
“He is a big body back there, and I think if he can use his size and as physical as he has been playing, if he can keep up playing like that, it is going to be huge for us,” Gudas said. “If we want to go deep in the playoffs, that is one of the things you want from your third D-pair.”
The Capitals’ game against the Penguins on Sunday showed that they are at their best when they are aggressive, physical and forechecking.
“For Jonas, it hasn’t been a tough sell at all,” Reirden said. "… He’s always been a defender first, and that is one of the reasons why we have always liked him because that is what he is going to bring to our group with size and a different skill set.”
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