There weren’t many expectations for Michal Kempny’s first game back to Washington’s lineup for its game against the Rangers on Friday night. After six months of rehabbing, it was assumed he’d be eased back into play and placed with Radko Gudas on the third-pairing for the defense. After spending the summer rehabbing and the last few weeks getting back into shape, it would have been understandable for him to show a little rust in his first game back.
When Kempny was last seen on his ice for the Capitals, he was being helped off it after he suffered a torn hamstring against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 20. It was just eight games before the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Without him, the Caps struggled to find the right pairing for John Carlson, and in the end it was one of the bigger reasons why the Hurricanes beat them in seven games.
Now, nine games into the season, the Capitals are getting Kempny back, and it could not have come at a better time.
One of the team’s bigger areas of concern was in their lack of experience in the defense. Besides Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, the team has yet to know what they have in the rest of the defense. Sure, we know Gudas to be a capable enforcer talented enough with the puck to help ease the loss of Brooks Orpik, and we know that Nick Jensen’s flashes of high-end talent could eventually help with loss of Matt Niskanen, but beyond that it’s hard to get an idea of the defense’s ceiling this year. The start of the season hasn’t been ideal with this current group, as the Capitals have already allowed five teams to score three or more goals in their first eight games before Kempny’s return.
Kempny has already helped alleviate some of those concerns. After playing just over 14 minutes last night, Kempny has already made an impact, scoring his first goal of the season when Henrik Lundqvist’s save went straight to Kempny’s stick with an open goal in sight.
“I just grab the puck and there was open net, so a little lucky for me,” Kempny said about his goal. “I was just excited.”
After his promising debut, expect to see Kempny continue to reach around 15 minutes per game for the next week or so. It appears he’s found a good match in pairing with fellow Czech defenseman Gudas though eventually he’ll be placed back at the top line with Carlson, who he found a ton of success with during the Stanley Cup run two years ago.
The rest of the pairings will likely remain the same for the time being, with Carlson pairing with Jonas Siegenthaler, and Orlov pairing with Jensen.
Getting Kempny back, a player who came into his own as a scorer and as a leader during the team’s run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals, may be exactly what this defense needs to finally come into their own.