The question spiked again when defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler was doubled over in pain on the Capitals’ bench with 23 seconds left in the second period. Siegenthaler and teammate Richard Panik collided on the ice moments earlier, and it appeared that Siegenthaler took the brunt on his left shoulder/collarbone area. Neither player returned to the game, and the team announced both suffered upper-body injuries and would be reevaluated Thursday. The Capitals finished the game with five healthy defensemen.
Reirden said Thursday morning he is hopeful Kempny can return for Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, but no clear timetable has been set. All Kempny can do is continue to work before trainers and doctors clear him to play in a game.
“I think every hockey player wants to be on the ice and is supposed to be on the ice to help their teammates win the hockey game, but it is what it is,” Kempny said. “I’m still with the guys. I’m supportive. That’s what I have to do right now, and I can’t wait to play again.”
If Siegenthaler’s injury requires him to miss Friday’s game and Kempny is unable to play, the Capitals will have to call up a player from their American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa. If Kempny is ready, the team will not have to make a corresponding move.
Reirden has expressed the need to take Kempny’s return slow and make sure he is 100 percent ready to play before throwing him into a tough situation. Even if Kempny returns Friday, it could take the 29-year-old defenseman a few games to fully get back into the swing of things.
“It’s making the choice that’s the right thing for our organization and for Michal,” Reirden said this week. “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.”
If Siegenthaler’s injury is significant, the Capitals could choose to put the young defenseman on long-term injured reserve, which would require him to miss 10 games. That would free up a roster spot — and some cap space — for the team to call up one of its prospects. If Kempny is also not ready, the team could retroactively place Kempny on LTIR, which would require him to miss the next two games and would give the Capitals the ability to call up another player in the interim.
In any case, defenseman Martin Fehervary is a likely candidate for the Capitals’ first call-up after he spent the first three regular season games in the lineup before being sent down. Fehervary is also waivers-exempt. Another option could be the team’s 2018 first-round pick, Alexander Alexeyev, who suffered a concussion during the NHL’s rookie showcase in Nashville in mid-September and was unable to participate in training camp. He then was loaned to the AHL and has since returned to the ice as a full participant.
The Capitals also could bring up defenseman Christian Djoos, who was waived in training camp after a tight salary cap didn’t allow the team to make his $1.25 million salary work. However, Djoos is not waivers-exempt and would have to go through the waiver wire again after he plays nine games at the NHL level. Once a player passes through waivers, he can freely go up and down between the AHL and NHL until he plays 10 games or spends 30 days on the NHL roster.
With multiple scenarios at the Capitals’ disposal, it all depends on the status of Siegenthaler, who was being checked by a team doctor on Thursday. There should be an update to his status Friday morning.
As for Kempny, Washington remains hopeful for his return, if not Friday, then soon.
“I just think about the guy and what he’s went [through] and what he’s endured and how hard he’s worked,” defenseman John Carlson said of Kempny. "I think you don’t see that one very often in the NHL, but just knowing all the work and staying after practice and after rehab work day after day, I mean it’s a couple months from training camp already it seems. It is a long time that he has been grinding, often by himself. When we get a day off he is still in there doing stuff and it’s hard on the mental side of things and looking forward to having him back and maybe a little happier.”