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In their own words: A timeline of Kempny’s struggles through the 2019-20 season

In their own words: A timeline of Kempny’s struggles through the 2019-20 season

The addition of Michal Kempny at the trade deadline in 2018 is one of the major reasons the Capitals would go on to win the Stanley Cup. The loss of Kempny to injury in 2019 is one of the major reasons the team lost in the first round of the playoffs. With that in mind, given his struggles in 2019-20 it is no surprise to see the rest of the defense struggle as well.

But where did things go wrong?

When retracing Kempny’s season, you see a season of hope for a speedy recovery over time turn into one of struggle. His return initially brought an immediate positive impact, but soon after the blue line struggled and suddenly Kempny went from a top-pair defenseman to a player struggling to keep his spot in the lineup.

Here is a timeline of Kempny’s season showing where things turned from hopeful optimism to clear frustration.

June 20

Kempny’s 2018-19 season ended on March 20 when he suffered a torn left hamstring in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The injury kept him out of the postseason, but was not expected to keep him out of training camp as general manager Brian MacLellan indicated in the conference call prior to the 2019 draft.

“It's wait and see, but we're expecting him to be available for camp," MacLellan said. "He's progressing well. I haven't got an update over the last week or so, but before that he's on target to play in training camp.”

September 12

At media day at the start of training camp, Kempny was asked if he felt he needed to play in the preseason to be ready for the season.

“I can play game when I'm not 100-percent so when I feel that I'm ready to go, I'm going to play. But if it's going to be like during the training camp, I don't know yet.”

MacLellan was also asked about Kempny’s status heading into training camp.

“He’s progressing well,” MacLellan said. “I think the training staff is going to be cautious with him. I think the most important thing with him is that he’s healthy going into the year.”

October 14

Despite all the early optimism, Kempny was not ready for the start of the season and it soon became clear how badly the team missed him. Washington jumped out to a 3-2-2 start and was allowing 3.29 goals per game.

Following a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, head coach Todd Reirden was asked about what the team was missing without Kempny in the lineup.

“The one thing that Michal was able to grow right from day one with us was just understanding how we want to play, how our team needs to play,” Reirden said. “I think he moves the puck quick when it's on his stick and it gets in our forwards hands as quick as possible. He does it first by skating by going back quick for pucks and then delivering it quickly. And then supporting the rush when he has chances and being active on the blue line in terms of getting pucks through. Those are some things we're looking forward to having back.”

October 15

The hole left by Kempny’s absence on the blue line was evident, but the day following the loss to Colorado Reirden said at practice that Kempny would not play in the team’s next game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and made clear he would not be rushed back into the lineup.

It's making the choice that's the right thing for our organization and for Michal. I think that we've been really happy with the development of this player since we got him and saw the strides he made last year and then we were able to realize how big of a loss he would be when we didn't have him. I think that doing anything now to set him up for anything less than success is not worth it. We have to view the risk versus reward and there won't be any risk, it will be that he is 100-percent cleared, ready to go and ready to play. He's been in situations that are game-like and he's ready to go continue how his season was going last year. It's not going to be perfect, he hasn't had a training camp, it's going to take a little while. Don't expect him to play 25 minutes with John Carlson Game one. But it'll be nice to have a left shot back in there and allow us to sort things out that way a little bit on our back end. He's someone that as I alluded to in the past is a guy that gets back for pucks quickly, moves it quickly and supports the rush. There's not a lot of end and play for Michael Kempny in terms of handling the puck. He gets, it moves it, gives it to our high-skilled forwards and supports the rush. When he gets the puck on the blue line he creates a shot lane and he's able to deliver it. He's gotten some points that way. That's what he does and that's an element that we need to continue to find back there and it'll be nice to have him back doing that.

At this point, however, it is fair to wonder if something had gone wrong. The talk at the start of training camp was all hopeful that Kempny would be back for the start of the season. Now halfway through October, no one seemed sure when he would be back.

Reirden, however, denied Kempny had suffered any sort of setback.

“There's nothing to be concerned about," he said. "If there was a setback I would let you know. There isn't one. He's going on the path he's supposed to be going on and many other people would have this as a longer-term injury than it already has been so he's doing great. He's working extremely hard, our trainers are doing and doctors are doing an excellent job with him. He helps us in so many ways. His practices, his practice habits, how he how he competes, how he battles and always helps everybody improve. It'll be good to get him back when we do, but I can tell you that it will be at the right time, regardless of how our team does.”

October 18

Kempny made his season debut against the New York Rangers. He played 14:24, the lowest among the team’s defensemen. But in limited minutes, Kempny scored a goal.

“I felt pretty good, actually,” he said following the game. “My legs felt good. 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.”

“I was very pleased with his game,” Reirden said. “Just for seeing exactly where he ended up minutes wise, we had some target thoughts of some minutes. They weren't easy minutes on him, obviously. ... I think this was exactly a perfect game for Michal to get back into.”

December 31

A flu bug hit the team coming out of the Christmas break forcing Kempny to miss two games. He returned on Dec. 31 in a loss to the New York Islanders. Not surprisingly, his minutes were limited to just 12:59, but Reirden had an interesting comment afterward about the Kempny, John Carlson pair.

“I hope once [Kempny] gets healthy we'll start putting him back in that situation with John and going into the All-Star Game and moving past there, we get that pair up and running to where they had been in the past.”

Together this season, Kempny and Carlson have a Corsi-For percentage of 48.77 and an expected goals-for percentage of 48.79 despite Carlson being on pace for 89 points. No defenseman has scored that many points since the 1993-94 season. Last season, Kempny and Carlson managed a Corsi-For percentage of 52.18 and expected goals-for percentage of 48.95.

February 11

Washington suffered arguably its worst two-game stretch of the season on Feb. 8 and 10 in lopsided losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and the Islanders. In the practice following the loss to New York, Kempny took responsibility for two of the Islanders’ five goals.

“Two goals was mine last night,” he said. “I was late with the squeeze first goal. If I'd done those two situations differently, we might win the game. There's lot of mistakes we've got to clear out and we've got to get through this. We have great team full of talent, full of skills, we just got to do something more through it and we will. We will do and we'll get through it.”

February 19

Right defense was a major weakness for the Caps all season long. Despite that, however, MacLellan traded for left defenseman Brenden Dillon on Feb. 18. Whether this had more to do with MacLellan not liking the market for right defenseman or a reflection of Kempny’s play is a matter of debate. When MacLellan was asked if Kempny or Jensen would get pushed out of the lineup with the addition of Dillon, however, his answer said a lot about how far Kempny had fallen this season.

“I think they both at times have been good players and then I think probably like the rest of our group it’s been inconsistent,” MacLellan said. “I think that’s the struggle for us is to get some consistency back there and I think now that we have seven [defensemen] you can hold guys a little more accountable. If you’re not playing well, you’re out.”

March 3

At practice, Kempny skated as an extra defenseman when the team went through its defensive pairs. He ended up being a healthy scratch in the March 4 game against Philadelphia.

With it clear that Kempny was not going to play in the next game, Reirden was asked about his struggles.

“[Kempny’s] an excellent player, was a big part of us winning the Cup two years ago,” Reirden said. “I think gone through a serious injury and his game isn't where he would like it right now and probably us either. For me, it's about trying to find the right combination of guys that give us the best chance to have six defensemen that play well together that can give us the best chance to win. We've got super important points here, important games coming up this week so we'll go with the guys that give us the best chance to win tomorrow night.”

Without trading for Kempny in 2018, the Caps don’t win the Cup. From playing on the top pair in the Stanley Cup Final to being a healthy scratch because he was not among the six defensemen that gave the team “the best chance to win,” that marks a precipitous fall.

In the first eight games without Kempny, the Caps allowed 3.25 goals per game. From when he came into the lineup on Oct. 18 to Dec. 23, that number improved to 2.77. Since Kempny returned after a brief absence due to illness on Dec. 31, however, the defense allowed a whopping 3.31 goals per game which ranks 27th in the league over that time.

The team’s defensive struggles since December can hardly be all placed on Kempny’s shoulders -- no one has played particularly well defensively -- but his play has continued to decline through the season to the point that he was a healthy scratch and MacLellan was willing to trade for Dillon who has been playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair almost the entire time since he arrived in Washington.

Looking back at this, it seems the root of the problem goes back to training camp where Kempny's return continued to get pushed back. Kempny knows this has been a rough season for him as he has said as much. The question is why? Whether the injury, how it affected his training over the summer and the lack of training camp and preseason have contributed to Kempny's poor season and, if so, how much is a question that can only be answered by Kempny.

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NHL, NHLPA finalize protocols for the 2020 postseason

NHL, NHLPA finalize protocols for the 2020 postseason

At long last, the NHL and NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) have agreed on the protocols under which the season can formally resume. The news was first reported Sunday by TSN's Bob McKenzie. The details of a new CBA that has been negotiated as part of the NHL and NHLPA's efforts to bring back hockey, however, is still being finalized. Hockey cannot resume until both the protocols for 2020 and the new CBA memorandum of understanding are ratified by the league's board of governors, the NHLPA's executive committee and a full membership vote by the players.

The full details of the protocols have not been formally released, but aspects have been leaked over the past week as both sides inched closer to an agreement. As expected, any player will have the option of opting out of Phase 3 (training camp) and Phase 4 (resumption of the season) without penalty, but the player must notify the team by July 7.

Teams will also be limited to 30 skaters in Phase 3 with an unlimited number of goalies. In Phase 4, that number goes down to 28 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies so presumably this should not be an issue for most teams. It does, however, allow two extra players in case a team is caught off guard by a player opting out.

In addition, Frank Seravalli reported players' families will be allowed to join the players for the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final which will take place in Edmonton. Elliotte Friedman also reported there will be significant punishments for individuals who try to leave the bubble.

The league formally paused its season on March 12. Since that time, the remainder of the regular season was canceled and the postseason re-structured to include 24 teams. Two round-robin tournaments will take place among the top four teams in the East and West to determine seeding while the remaining teams will all play a best-of-five play-in round. From there, the playoffs will begin with all four remaining rounds being a best-of-seven and with teams being reseeded after each round to determine matchups.


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Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

Remembering the highlights of each of the Capitals' American players

The Capitals have a superstar Russian, an incredible Swedish center, a Canadian netminder, but the team also boasts several American players as well. On the 4th of July when American celebrate the birth of our nation, lets put down the barbecue, apple pie and fireworks for a few minutes to remember some of the top highlights from each of the team's Americans.

Travis Boyd: 4 goals for Hayden

In Feb. 2018, Boyd turned hardship into an inspirational moment. While with the Hershey Bears, Boyd's daughter, Hayden, developed a serious infection and had to go to the hospital. Boyd went with her on a Sunday and did not leave until Friday morning to prepare for that night's game, a game in which he would score four goals.

John Carlson: The golden goal

Carlson has numerous highlights from his career with the Caps, but on Indepence Day it seems only fitting to look back at his biggest goal for his country. Carlson represented Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships which was hosted by Canada that year. USA made it all the way to the final where the played the host nation. Tied at 5 through regulation, Carlson scored the golden goal off a 2-on-1 as he caught the goalie leaning anticipating the pass.

Nic Dowd: Historic penalty shot

In Game 5 of the Caps' series against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019, Nic Dowd was slashed by defenseman Dougie Hamilton while he was in alone on goalie Petr Mrazek. Dowd was awarded the first penalty shot of his career and he delivered, dekeing right to open up Mrazek's pads and tucking the puck through the 5-hole. In addition to being his first penalty shot goal, the goal was also Dowd's first-career playoff point.

The goal also had some historic significance for the team as it was Washington's first ever playoff penalty shot goal.


Garnet Hathaway: Shows his toughness against the Rangers

On Oct. 18, the Caps hosted the New York Rangers and it proved to be an pretty epic night for Hathaway. He was knocked out of the game in the second period with a broken nose after a big hit from Jacob Trouba, came back in the third, drew a cross-check, fought Brendan Smith (again, with a broken nose), the Caps scored on the resulting power play and Hathaway returned to score the empty-netter.

That’s a pretty unbelievable game.

Nick Jensen: Assisting on goal No. 700

Jensen has been with the Capitals for about a year and a half, but he will forever be linked to the team's greatest franchise player thanks to one assist.

Against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 22, Jensen grabbed a loose puck behind the offensive goal line and sent it back behind the net to keep the offensive cycle going. That allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Alex Ovechkin who scored career goal No. 700.

T.J. Oshie: T.J. Sochi

Who could forget about Oshie's incredible performance at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi?

Playing against Team Russia, USA leaned heavily on Oshie in the shootout. He would score four times on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as USA walked away victorious.

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