Capitals

Caps' Kempny hopes to build on rough first preseason game

Capitals

Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny was pretty frank about his performance in Wednesday's preseason game.

"It wasn't a good one, obviously," Kempny said Friday after a practice at MedStar Iceplex in Arlington.

In his first action for Washington in over a year thanks to a torn Achilles tendon, Kempny finished the game a minus-1 in 19:08 of ice time. He was on the ice for three of the New Jersey Devils' five goals in a 5-4 loss.

In the first period, Yegor Sharangovich caught Kempny flat-footed and was able to skate around him with the puck for an unimpeded shot on net. Early in the second, Jack Hughes picked off a Kempny pass from the defensive zone, turning it into a disastrous turnover and an easy goal. Finally, in the third period, Nico Hischier dipped behind Kempny off a face-off and was open on the doorstep for what turned into the game-winning goal.

"I felt like I didn't read some of the situations as I should," Kempny said. "I haven't played game in a long time, but it's not an excuse."

It would have been a disastrous game in the regular season, but the preseason is the exact time when a player returning from injury is able to work through these issues and get up to game speed.

Though it was just a preseason game, Wednesday was Kempny's first taste of game action since Aug. 14, 2020 during the NHL's Stanley Cup playoff bubble that summer. The Achilles injury kept him out for the entire 2021 season so the fact Kempny looked rusty, that he did not read the game as well as he would have liked, is understandable and correctable.

 

Far more important is his health. In that sense, there were no issues.

"I felt good," Kempny said. "I didn't have problem with the skating."

"I think my gap was really good that game," Kempny added. "My skating, I felt really good on the ice. Sometimes I felt I made a wrong turn or something like that and I get little bit caught so those kind of situation I have to really focus on and get better at."

When it comes to the first preseason game, making sure he remained pain-free and was not limited was the major key. But with the season on the horizon and holes on the Capitals' defense, the focus must now quickly shift to shoring up any mistakes.

Growing pains are to be expected. It's not just that it has been over a year since Kempny has played, but he also has to adjust to a new system. While head coach Peter Laviolette and assistant coach Kevin McCarthy -- who works with the defensemen --  are in their second year in Washington, this is Kempny's first year playing with them.

"It's something new for me, but I think I'll get used to it," Kempny said. "It's not that hard, I think. It just needs to do the reps and be in those situations in a game because it's different in a practice, let's be honest here. I don't have a problem with the system. It's the matter of to get used to it and all will be fine with that."

Learning the system and the coaches is a work-in-progress. Kempny met with McCarthy on Friday to talk about his game and said they were still getting to know each other. But what matters most to Kempny a this point is getting game reps.

There are four preseason games remaining. While Kempny was not sure what the coaches had planned for him for the remainder of the preseason, Kempny is hoping for as much game time as possible.

"I don't know how many games I'm going to play," Kempny said. "Obviously, I would love to play all of them. I don't know what's the plan going to be for me. I'm just focusing on my game every day. I think I had a good practice today and just go day-by-day and get better here. That's all I need to say."