When goaltender Al Jensen joined the Capitals in a trade from Detroit on July, 23, 1981, the young franchise was suffering from many deficiencies, but goaltending was one of the most visible. During their first seven seasons of play, the Capitals had gone through 12 goalies that combined for a lackluster 4.31 goals-against average.
Although he had only appeared in one NHL game prior to coming to Washington, general manager Max McNab had high hopes for Jensen, the number-one ranked goaltender in the 1978 draft, two-time minor-league champion and Ontario Hockey League all-star who had yet to get an opportunity at the highest level.
Although he served mainly as a spare goaltender and a minor-league recall during his first season with the Capitals, the young goalie made an impact when he got his opportunity during the 1982-83 season. Recalled from the minors in early November, Jensen spent the remainder of the season in the NHL.
Helping the Capitals to their first playoff appearance, Jensen, sharing netminding duties with Pat Riggin, earned a 22-12-6 record in 40 appearances. He set new team records in several categories, including wins and an unbeaten streak of nine games.
Jensen started the 1983-84 season as the league’s top goaltender in almost all statistical categories, including wins, shutouts and goals-against average. Shortly after being tapped to start in goal for the Wales Conference in the NHL All-Star Game, Jensen suffered a back injury. He missed the all-star game and didn’t return to the Capitals lineup until mid-March. Despite missing a good portion of the season, Jensen still managed to lead the team in wins and helped the Capitals to second place in the Patrick Division and a second consecutive playoff berth.
That season the Jensen/Riggin goaltending duo had held opponents to a then-franchise low of 226 goals, earning the William Jennings Trophy for the fewest team goals-against in the league.
Jensen missed most of the 1984-85 season with injuries but again led the team in goal the following season. In 1985-86 he set career highs with 44 games and 28 wins as he helped the Capitals to a franchise-best record of 50-23-7 and 107 points.
Despite his productive performance the previous year, the 1986-87 season was the end of the road in Washington for Jensen. With the rise of Bob Mason through the team’s goaltending ranks and Pete Peeters already established in the NHL, Jensen became the odd man out after a poor start to the season. His often successful, yet brief, career with the Capitals was all but over when he was assigned to the Binghamton Whalers of the American Hockey League in November, 1986.
He would play in only five more NHL games, all with the Kings, and one more season in the minors before retiring at the age of 29.