Michal Kempny’s strong play leaves Campbell odd-man out again

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Michal Kempny and St. Louis’ Kyle Brodziak race to the puck during the Winter Classic on Monday. (Getty Images)

Long, lung-searing morning skates weren’t what Michal Kempny had in mind when he decided to skate up his whole world and make the jump to a new league, a new country, and a new language. Kempny signed with the Blackhawks to play, not to watch from the press box.

But for an excruciating three-week span in December, Kempny could only sit and watch each night as a healthy scratch.

“It wasn’t easy,” Kempny said through an interpreter. “But you do have to think positive, stay positive. Every practice, for me, was like a game. I was trying to work out on the ice and in the gym, waiting for the game to come.”

When Kempny finally got back in the lineup after being scratched for nine of 10 games, he didn’t waste his opportunity. After a middling performance in Nashville last week, he had stellar efforts at Carolina and St. Louis, scoring a goal in each game (his first two NHL goals) and showing off an improved defensive game.

Kempny lamented that both of his goals came in losses, but the big efforts weren’t lost on his teammates

“Probably the most impressive part is when you’ve been sitting for more than two or three games, it’s tough to come back and just play right away,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “He’s been playing unbelievable since he came in, and scored two goals in two games — I haven’t done that in my career yet. It’s good for the whole team when we can contribute on the back end. He’s been playing real well. Good player.”

Said Patrick Kane: “Happy for him. He’s probably excited to get back in there and play. He’s got a great shot. Could be a big key to our defense.”

Of course, with the Hawks’ eight-man defensive rotation, one man’s good news is another man’s bad news. And so Brian Campbell will be scratched for the second time in four games Thursday night against his first NHL team, the Buffalo Sabres. Campbell’s streak of 423 straight regular-season games played was snapped in Nashville.

Campbell was on the ice for two goals against in St. Louis. Joel Quenneville alluded to that when explaining the decision, but as he did during Kempny’s extended absence, said it’s more about having too many guys playing well, than not enough. He mentioned that Michal Rozsival, who has played just once in the last 11 games, has played “very well” whenever he’s gotten the chance.

“You can say it’s a luxury over the course of 82 games,” Quenneville said. “It’s nice knowing that we have that depth. [Campbell] was fine about it the other day, [but] obviously not happy either time. That’s where we’re at.”

Campbell said it’s been “different” than what he’s used to, after playing every single game in five seasons in Florida, but that he’s still “having fun.”

“Not a lot of teams carry [eight defensemen],” he said. “I guess when you’re in, you’ve got to be on, you’ve got to be good, and you’ll stay in. There’s not much leeway that way, so you’ve got to be good when you’re in. It creates good competition.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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