ARLINGTON, Va. – Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny will be out “an indefinite” amount of time, according to coach Todd Reirden.
Kempny sustained a lower-body injury in Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning when he fell to the ice during a scrap with forward Cedric Paquette. He had to be helped off the ice and could not put any weight on one leg. He did not return to the game.
“I'd say we're going to have to be without him for an indefinite amount of time right now,” Reirden said. “We're just getting some more tests before we can make an official time statement on that, but I would just say right now that indefinitely he's out of our lineup.”
Christian Djoos will take Kempny’s place on the top pairing next to John Carlson. Djoos was bumped from the lineup on Feb. 23 after Washington acquired Nick Jensen in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings. Djoos finally returned to the lineup on Tuesday in a 4-1 win against the New Jersey Devils when the team rested 38-year-old veteran Brooks Orpik.
Djoos and Carlson played together last season when Matt Niskanen missed 13 games with a left thumb injury. They have some history, which should help with on-ice communication. The duo have played together 600 minutes, 15 seconds since last season. Their Corsi-for percentage (53.45) is above water. That’s lots of shots directed at their own net, though that sample size is reasonably small over the course of a full season. With Kempny, Carlson has played 1150:19 and they are at 51.11 percent in 92 games.
"I don't know about communication. I think just not having to communicate is the big thing, and fortunately for me I think Djoos, he could be the smartest hockey player in this room altogether,” Carlson said. “That's everyone. We've had stints. When [Niskanen] went down beginning, middle of last year, we played a lot together. Always kind of sneak in shifts here and there with him this year. I feel comfortable with him. That's not an issue for me.”
Losing Kempny is a blow, however.
The Feb. 19, 2018 trade for Kempny helped stabilize a blue line that was constantly in flux and relying on rookies in key spots last season. His addition helped balance Washington’s pairs, gave them another strong skater and was a big part of their 15-7-0 finish in the regular season and their Stanley Cup title run.
Djoos is also a fine skater and makes for an interesting match with Carlson. But he’s also undersized at 6-foot, 169 pounds. He did play the final 22 playoff games last season on the right side next to Orpik on the third pair. Djoos is more comfortable on the left side, where he will be with Carlson. For now.
“That opportunity for Christian is first and foremost tonight for him,” Reirden said. “It's a great opportunity, I've seen those two play together before and I thought he had a strong game the other day against New Jersey. This is why we have the depth we do. We'll put him in that situation tonight, but it's going to be probably a little bit of a committee as you move forward depending on the game.”
Reirden was not ready to say Kempny will miss the rest of the season. It’s too soon for that.
“Obviously we'll miss Michal, he's been a really good player for us in the playoffs last year,” Reirden said. “He's had a strong regular season push his numbers to career highs and stuff. Hopefully we can get some better news on that, but for now Christian will be starting there and expect to see some movement in those spots as well.”
Added Carlson: “I think I'm a little bit more aggressive at the line and keeping guys out of the zone, and in-zone [Kempny is] a little more aggressive in terms of down below the goal line. We obviously know each other's games and work off each other pretty well. He's a big piece of this team and we're gonna have to all step up."
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