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A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

It took six months of toil and effort for Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny to make it back to an NHL game. 

He last played March 20 when a torn hamstring in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning ended his season just a few weeks before the Stanley Cup playoffs began. That was brutal. 

A spring to heal after surgery, a summer to rehab the injury and weeks getting back in hockey shape were the steep price paid. And then it took him all of 15 minutes to score his first goal on Friday in a game against the New York Rangers. Welcome back, Michal. 

“I felt pretty good, actually. My legs felt good,” Kempny said. “Obviously not an easy situation for me. But I got to say just thank you to all of the staff, whole organization, my teammates, my family, my friends who were supporting me all the way through here and help me. It means a lot to me.”

It was an organizational project. Kempny meant so much to Washington during its Stanley Cup run of 2018. The Capitals felt his absence on the top pair with John Carlson during the first-round series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Washington coach Todd Reirden credited team trainers Jason Servis and Mike Booi and strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish with putting Kempny in position to return early in the season.  

“Six months of investment of their time to get him back,” Reirden said. “I thought Michal looked really good.”

The goal came at 15:16 of the first period and gave Washington a 2-1 lead. Kempny jumped onto a loose pucked batted around by teammate Alex Ovechkin, quickly corralled it and beat Henrik Lundqvist for the goal. It was a pretty play and another indication that Capitals' defensemen are taking chances when they see them on the offensive end. 

In his first game back, Kempny had 14:24 of ice time. That’s about the goal the Capitals had in mind for him. He started on the third pair with fellow Czech Radko Gudas, but also played 3:42 with Carlson, who mobbed Kempny after his goal and gave him a celebratory facewash with his glove. They’re happy to have him back. 

“I just grab the puck and there was open net, so a little lucky for me,” Kempny said. “I was just excited.”

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Capitals await word on possible Garnet Hathaway suspension

Capitals await word on possible Garnet Hathaway suspension

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway was still waiting to hear about a possible suspension following his spitting incident Monday in a 5-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks
 
Hathaway spit on defenseman Erik Gudbranson in the final minute of the second period against the Ducks at the tail end of a brawl seconds after Chandler Stephen’s goal made it 3-0. The NHL Department of Player Safety is not involved in any decision for supplemental discipline. Instead, the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department will make the determination. Washington coach Todd Reirden said he was disappointed in Hathaway's action, but defended the player's character, too, after the game Monday. 

"I definitely appreciated that and it went a long way," Hathaway said. "Just to echo what [Reirden] said, that is not how I see myself either. Not the kind of character I want to uphold either. So it is something I regret and it was nice Todd said that stuff."
 
The Capitals play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Tight against the salary cap and already playing with a short roster, coach Todd Reirden said there are moves coming to ease that crunch whether Hathaway is suspended or not. 
 
"I think you always have to prepare,” Reirden said. “We're going to be making a few transactions here later today and tomorrow morning, and it'll all kind of combine into the decisions that we make."
 
One move could be placing forward Carl Hagelin on long-term injured reserve. He sustained an upper-body injury in a Nov. 7 game against the Florida Panthers. Hagelin must miss 10 games and 24 calendar days, however, to make that move retroactive. He skated again in a light blue non-contact jersey at practice on Tuesday. 
 
That almost certainly rules Hagelin out for the Rangers game. That would be his seventh game in a row out of the lineup. Because of the 10/24 rule and a compressed schedule, Hagelin would actually have to miss through the Nov. 30 game against the Detroit Red Wings, which would be an 11th game missed.
 
The Detroit contest is the beginning of a four-game road trip that continues in California. Hagelin would be eligible to play again Dec. 3 at the San Jose Sharks.   
 
Another option is a player with a more concerning injury. Fourth-line center Nic Dowd had a serious cut on his left hand against the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 13. He has missed three games in a row, but the injury is considered more serious. Dowd would not be able to return until a Dec. 9 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 
 
“He's a little bit more serious than we anticipated, so he's still not on the ice,” Reirden said. “I'm going to wait to get final word from our trainer and I'll speak on that when I have that news.”
 
Dowd has a salary-cap hit of $750,000. Hagelin is at $2.75 million. The Capitals are down to $259,059 current daily cap space, according to the web site CapFriendly.com, and has been juggling players between the NHL and AHL roster (goalie Ilya Samsonov, defenseman Tyler Lewington, Travis Boyd, Vitek Vanacek, Liam O’Brien) thanks to the untimely injuries to Dowd and Hagelin. 
 
A possible Hathaway suspension complicates that further. The Capitals are headed to New York on Tuesday afternoon, but NHL executives are busy with the General Managers' meetings in Toronto so it is possible they don't find out for sure until Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning. 
 
“I haven't really thought about it, but you never want to sit and leave guys hanging and not be able to help out,” Hathaway said. “So this is a group that it would be unfortunate if I wasn't [playing], but they are a team that can handle themselves and not worried about them in the outcomes of games." 

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Travis Boyd has done enough to show the Caps they can't afford to send him back to Hershey

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Travis Boyd has done enough to show the Caps they can't afford to send him back to Hershey

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Travis Boyd knew the situation when he came into training camp. He knew the Capitals were tight against the salary cap even before the team signed several depth forwards who could potentially push him out of the lineup. He knew he would have to scratch and claw to keep his spot. Initially, however, he was not able to show the Caps why he deserved to remain on the NHL roster. When Evgeny Kuznetsov returned from suspension early in the season, Boyd was among the odd-men out and reassigned to Hershey in the AHL.

Fate, perhaps, is now intervening as Boyd has been called up twice due to injuries and he has certainly made the most of those opportunities. Now in his second call-up, Boyd is showing the coaches in real NHL games what he could not in the preseason, that he is an NHL player and that the Caps are better for having him on the roster.

“It's been a tough year so far definitely, but try not to think about it,” Boyd said. “That's the part of this that's out of your hands. My focus has been every game I've had a chance to play this year, just try to go out there and play well and make it a tough decision for them whether to send me back down or not. Just try and play well every game and get another chance and continue to show what I can do.”

In just eight games, Boyd has already contributed six points (1 goal, 5 assists). That’s more points than Carl Hagelin (5), Nic Dowd, (4), Chandler Stephenson (4) and Richard Panik (1), all of whom have played more games. Boyd is also contributing with limited ice time. Dowd and Brendan Leipsic are the only Caps currently averaging less than Boyd's 10:03 of ice time per game.

Promoted to the third line for Monday’s game, it took Boyd just 50 seconds to end Panik’s point drought, setting up his linemate with a pass from behind the net that Panik fired into the far corner.

The main issue for Boyd is that, apart from his offense, he does not provide much else. He is not good enough to play on the power play and not well suited for the penalty kill. He plays more of a finesse style than the heavy, physical style the Caps covet.

“It's more than just points,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “Obviously we want our lineup to have a certain identity to it and be able to play a particular way that we feel gives us a chance to have success and that's a heavier, more physical, aggressive forechecking style. So those are types of things that he can continue to add [to his game].”

But, even if Boyd does not contribute those big hits, he does provide something that right now may be even more valuable: a small cap hit.

With a total cap hit of only $800,000, Boyd has the third-lowest cap hit among the team's forwards and fifth-lowest among all players on the current roster.

Given how dire the Caps’ salary cap situation is, the fact that the team could potentially save money against the cap by replacing someone on the roster with Boyd cannot be ignored.

So tight against the salary cap was Washington that when Panik returned from LTIR, the team reassigned both Boyd and Tyler Lewington to Hershey leaving them with only six defensemen and 12 healthy forwards, the bare minimum. So tight against the cap was the team that when both Dowd and Hagelin were injured, the team recalled Lewington, a defenseman, because he has the lowest cap hit and was the only player the team could afford to call up. So tight against the cap was Washington that the next day the team sent down future starter Ilya Samsonov and replaced him with Vitek Vanecek just to get enough cap hit to recall Boyd in order to skate four full forward lines.

Clearly, the team’s cap situation is not sustainable.

Forget about when the team travels to California at the start of December and will need to bring extra players in case of injury, this already has proven to be a problem for the team. They need more cap room.

Even if the cap situation did not necessitate some sort of move to free up space, Boyd is showing through his play that he deserves to remain with the Caps. The impact he is having on the ice is undeniable.

When asked if Boyd was competing to potentially stay in Washington, Reirden did not hesitate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “He's known that. The message has been clear to him. Especially as we're getting closer here to 30 days with him and a decision having to be made again, he's doing everything he can with his game to be able to prove every night that he deserves an elevated role or to be here. Certainly with the low cap hit and the offense he's been able to generate make it an intriguing situation for sure.”

Once the team gets healthy again, the Caps will have no choice but to send someone back to Hershey, but both Boyd’s production and his cap hit dictate that it should not be him.

“I think I am an NHL player,” Boyd said, “But ultimately with the way that everything has worked out so far this year, every game I get is just another chance to show that.”

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