Who has the edge in the battle for the Caps' third-pair defense?

J.J. Regan

There are not going to be many roster battles in training camp as the Capitals look pretty set at most positions. The two biggest questions are who will be on the fourth line on offense and who will play the left side on the third defensive pair? On Monday I wrote about the competition for the fourth line so now let's take a look at the third defensive pairing.

Washington currently has six defensemen under contract for next season plus Christian Djoos who was qualified as a restricted free agent and filed for arbitration. Assuming he re-signs, which he almost certainly will, that gives the Caps a full blue line with seven defensemen or three pairs of two and an extra.

We know what the top four will be. Once Michal Kempny is back healthy, he will move back to his position on the left side of the top pair with John Carlson. With Matt Niskanen gone, Nick Jensen is penciled in to move up to the right side of the second pair next to Dmitry Orlov. That leaves Djoos, Jonas Siegenthaler and Radko Gudas.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

It is important to note that none of those players look like a clear No. 7. There is no Taylor Chorney here. A more accurate question for this is what will be the "primary" third pairing because it is likely to cycle for much of the season.

Of those two spots, really there is only one that will be open. Gudas, who the team acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers for Niskanen, is the only right-shot of the three so he should have the right side of that pair locked up.

That leaves Siegenthaler and Djoos battling for the last remaining spot on the blue line on the left side.

If you are of the "what have you done for me lately" camp, then Siegenthaler has to be the frontrunner. Siegenthaler was good enough to play in the NHL last year, but because of a stacked roster he found himself cycling back and forth between Washington and Hershey. As the playoffs began, he was a healthy scratch before getting into the lineup in Game 4 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Who did he replace? Djoos.

With Kempny out, head coach Todd Reirden struggled to find a replacement for him on the top pairing and tried everything he could think of including playing John Carlson on his off-side on the left. Siegenthaler was scratched the first three games of the playoffs. He got into the lineup for Game 4 and just one game later he was bumped up to the top pairing and he kept hold of that spot for the rest of the series.

Siegenthaler has good size at 6 foot, 3 inches, 206 pounds. He plays a very similar style to the now-retired Brooks Orpik as a stay at home defenseman, but he is much more mobile. He has not proven to be as physical a presence as Orpik yet, but that will come with more experience and confidence.

So to recap, Seigenthaler finished last season playing on the top pair in the playoffs and replaced Djoos in the lineup. Hw is there even a question as to who should be in the lineup next season?

Well, don't count Djoos out just yet.

Djoos played a big role with the Caps in the 2018 postseason, coming into the lineup two games into the first round in place of Jakub Jerabek. He played on the right next to Orpik and did not relinquish that spot for the rest of the postseason. He also looked as if he had improved at the start of last season before he developed compartment syndrome in his thigh and missed the next two months. Though he returned to action in mid-February, it was clear he was not the same player he was before the injury.

While the Caps as a team seemed to struggle against Carolina's forecheck, it seemed to affect Djoos particularly and he struggled to get the puck out of the zone in the face of so much pressure, thus leading to him yielding his spot in the lineup to Siegenthaler. Now with a full offseason to rest, he should be fully recovered by the start of training camp and ready to compete.

Plus, let's also not forget that Djoos is a left-shot. His primary role for the Caps to this point has been playing on the right, but with Gudas on that side he will be competing for a role on the left which should be more familiar and comfortable to him.

There is no question that Djoos took a step back last season and, like it or not, his size will always be a concern. While it did not seem to be a factor in the 2018 playoffs, it certainly did last season as there were times it looked like he was getting pushed around. Physical play is not a concern for Siegenthaler given his larger frame, but he is not as good a puck handler as Djoos and does not appear to have the same offensive upside.

The answer to the question as to who should play on the third pair may be as simple as saying both with both players splitting time up until the postseason. An injury to another defenseman could also render this comparison moot as both would likely get into the lineup at that point.

But if the Caps manage to stay healthy, there is just one spot left open on the blue line and both Siegenthaler and Djoos have the resumes to show they should be playing. When the season opens on Oct. 2, however, only one of them will be.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Who has the edge in the battle for the Caps' third-pair defense? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

What to Read Next