- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Michal Kempny spent extra time on the ice during the Capitals’ optional morning skate, then hurried to a meeting to watch film. After arriving to the District at midnight, Kempny was trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible since being traded to the Capitals from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Capitals gave up a 2018 third-round pick to acquire Kempny, and the team hopes the defenseman will help solve some season-long problems.

The Capitals are 4-3-2 this month heading into Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Over that nine-game span, they’re giving up 3.88 goals per game and 36.7 shots per game. Those numbers are partially skewed by blowout losses in PIttsburgh and Chicago, but the efforts were concerning nonetheless.

The February lull has put a spotlight on defensive flaws that have plagued the team all season. The Capitals are giving up a league-high 32.7 shots per game — and opponents are scoring three goals per game against Washington. 

It’s a serious drop-off from last year, when Washington allowed the fewest goals (2.16) and fourth-fewest shots (27.8) per game.

Further, over an adjusted 60-minute span at even strength, Washington is allowing a second-worst 13.6 higher-danger chances per game, which measures how many shots are taken in the ease and the slot. That means teams are getting easier looks against the Capitals compared to other opponents.

Some of that regression was to be expected, given the departures of defensemen Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Nate Schmidt in the offseason. Washington replaced those three with two rookies, and the team has suffered growing pains with them on the ice.

The Capitals hope Kempny can help stop the bleeding.

“I think we need the elements he brings to our team,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He’s a good puck mover. He’s a good skater. He’s got good mobility. We’re hoping he can add some depth to our whole D-core.”

MacLellan said the Capitals had been scouting Kempny for “quite a while,” and he envisions him slotting next to John Carlson on the left — meaning rookie Christian Djoos will either be moved down a pair, or out of the lineup completely.

There are no guarantees for Kempny — he struggled to get playing time in Chicago under coach Joel Quenneville, appearing in only 31 games this season. The rest of the time, he was a healthy scratch. 

Coach Barry Trotz held back on where Kempny might be used.  

“We don’t know that yet,” Trotz said. “We’ll let it play out a little bit.” 

But Kempny, who will be inactive against Tampa, said he’s looking forward to the new opportunity.

“I thought I was gonna get more space on the ice and more ice time (in Chicago), but I didn’t play more than half of games,” Kempny said. “Now I’m here and I’m really glad that I’m here. Washington is an amazing city and a great organization. And I hope that I’ll get chance to access myself on the ice, more than I did in Chicago.”

If Kempny does crack the lineup, rookie Madison Bowey could be the extra defenseman scratched for most games. On Tuesday, the Capitals waived Taylor Chorney, who served as Washington’s inactive defenseman on most nights. Chorney’s $800,000 salary will clear the books, and he will be assigned to the Hershey Bears, the Capitals’ American Hockey League Affiliate, if another team doesn’t claim him.

Bowey said his mindset won’t change with the Capitals trading for Kempny. He added he’s pleased with his progression throughout the season, feeling more comfortable with every game. Bowey called Kempny “a great addition” because he helps add depth for the later part of the season.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a little bit more added competition for some of us younger guys, but I think it’s what you need in this day and age,” Bowey said. “Right now, it’s the best player who’s playing is going to be the guy who’s going to get the most ice time. That’s the focus right now.”

The Kempny deal isn’t like the blockbuster MacLellan made at the trade deadline last year when he gave up prospects and draft picks for Shattenkirk, but the team needed the additional depth. 

Trotz praised Kenmpy’s first pass out of the defensive zone, and emphasized the need to get the puck to the team’s forwards. He said while Kenmpy is more of a defensive player than offensive, Kempny’s skill-set hopefully “will be a real good fit.” 

“I liked the first meeting (with Kempny),” Trotz said. “You can tell about the person, if he’s easy or uneasy in this situation. He seemed to fit in real well with the guys.” 

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