The goal, which began with a savvy pass from Travis Boyd, showcased another step in the young defenseman’s growth. After Siegenthaler played 26 regular season and four postseason games last season, he has been a mainstay on the Capitals’ blue line this season. To start the year, he was on the top pairing with John Carlson while Michal Kempny was recovering from his torn hamstring. When Kempny returned, Siegenthaler moved to the third pair with Nick Jensen.
Siegenthaler’s development has slowly started to show, especially on the penalty kill. After being part of the unit last year, he now feels comfortable in shorthanded situations.
The next phase in his development is getting comfortable with five-on-five play. Siegenthaler can point to a few areas that need the most shoring up: slinging breakout passes, being tough in front of the net and playing systematically sound. Coach Todd Reirden has seen flashes, but Siegenthaler isn’t “fully ready” for it yet. That will be the next evolution of his game, and for Reirden, it is all by design.
“It was something we saw last year when he was challenged with it. . . . Initially last year he was playing third-pair minutes, and then this year he’s being used on penalty-kill minutes, so he started to be focused on that, and that is part of his self evaluation,” Reirden said.
Siegenthaler averaged 14:09 of ice time last year and now averages 17:49, and he also leads the team in shorthanded minutes.
And of course, Saturday’s goal was good, too — it came on the first anniversary of Siegenthaler’s NHL debut. Tom Wilson congratulated Siegenthaler with a postgame shaving cream pie.
“He’s doing the right things. He’s supporting the rush like he’s supposed to, and here sometimes you’re going to get those opportunities. And it’s just always fun to watch a guy score his first NHL goal,” Reirden said. “That was exciting. It was actually a really big point in the game, too. . . . We continue to see him grow and get better.”
Reirden said the key to a young defenseman’s growth is consistency. He starts to see a player’s upside as a defenseman around the 200-game mark (Siegenthaler has played in 44), and at that point his identity is still forming in terms of what he can and can’t do. Then it’s up to the coaching staff to slot him properly in the lineup and see how he responds. The staff will reslot him later in the year or the following year to determine what the player truly can do.
“Our organization has done a good job of stockpiling a bunch of different types of defensemen, and it’s nice to see Siegenthaler get rewarded tonight,” Reirden said. “But for me, it’s that consistency every night in and night out. It’s a difficult league.”
More often than not with a young defenseman, Reirden said, if he makes a few mistakes early in a game, it can spiral and quickly turn negative. But he believes the organization’s young defensemen over the past few years have quickly moved on after a bad shift or two — or even a bad game or two. Reirden keys on that mentality when evaluating his players.
For Siegenthaler in particular, the penalty kill has been a main focus, with him treating it like his “little baby.”
“So you know some guys their little babies are the [power play or] three-on-three, you know? PK is obviously my little baby, so I got to put all my work into the PK when I am up,” Siegenthaler said.
The defenseman said he watches every penalty kill after games. Often, he will go home and watch all of his shifts, one by one.
Capitals assistant Scott Arniel said Siegenthaler isn’t afraid to get in lanes and block shots. Siegenthaler, Arniel explained, has a good stick and long arms, attributes that help him on the penalty kill. Since he is mobile, he is able to get pressure in shorthanded situations, and he is able to take advantage of tight spaces.
“I played PK my whole life, so I’m used to it,” Siegenthaler said. “I’m not scared to block shots; I’m not scared to stay in front of the shots. That is part of the PK, and if you want to be a good PK player, you have to be willing to block shots and sacrifice your body.”
Where Siegenthaler thinks he needs to improve is clearing the puck during the penalty kill. Sometimes, he said, he has more time than he thinks, but in some situations he has reacted too quickly and tried to get the puck out as quickly as possible. That can lead to a bobbled puck, and maybe it doesn’t travel all 200 feet — or becomes a turnover.
For now, Siegenthaler is content with learning, working on new aspects of his game while surrounded by veteran defensemen who continue to heap praise on the youngster.
“He’s been great, and I said that at the beginning of the year he was ready for a big year,” Carlson said. “Just so much talent and skill. Upstairs he’s a balanced guy that’s into it every day, practice and games. I think he really wants to learn, and I think this whole season he’s been playing awesome.”
The Capitals placed defenseman Tyler Lewington on waivers Sunday. If the 24-year-old clears, he will be sent to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa.
Lewington, a seventh-round draft pick in 2013, has no points and a minus-2 rating in five games with the Capitals this season.