Kempny scores in return to lineup after month as healthy scratch
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Coach Joel Quenneville, a former NHL defenseman himself, frequently notes that blue-liners play better when they’re playing regularly. That didn’t necessarily bode well for Michal Kempny, who made his first appearance in more than a month Thursday against the high-flying Jets.
But maybe Kempny, who had been a healthy scratch for 13 consecutive games, got a confidence boost from fellow defenseman Jordan Oesterle, who played two strong games after 11 in a row in street clothes. Kempny scored his first goal of the season in the third period of the Hawks’ 5-1 victory.
‘‘You want to play to your own strengths, and you want to play your game,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Talk about [Oesterle] being in the same situation . . . [I don’t know] whether he surprised us or not, but I thought he had two really solid games for us. [With Kempny], we want him to come in and give us some energy, some enthusiasm, freshness.’’
With defensemen Jan Rutta (apparent head injury) and Cody Franson (upper body) day-to-day, Connor Murphy moved back to the right side, finally opening up a spot on the left for Kempny. Murphy never had played the left side before, but he made a smooth transition, forming a reliable pairing with Brent Seabrook.
Murphy hoped it all would come right back to him on the right side.
‘‘First it was, ‘Oh, it’ll be weird playing on the left,’ ’’ Murphy said with a laugh. ‘‘Now I’m thinking, ‘Oh, maybe it’ll be weird playing on the right.’ But it’ll be fine. It’s just a matter of getting out there and playing.’’
Defenseman Ville Pokka hasn’t missed a game with the IceHogs since the 2014-15 season. But he wasn’t about to complain about his first healthy scratch in years.
‘‘I haven’t missed a game in two years, so that’s going to be different,’’ he said. ‘‘But I’m just happy to be [with the Hawks]. I don’t mind missing games if I’m up here.’’
Pokka’s stay in the NHL likely will be short, with Rutta and Franson expected back sooner than later. But it’s the 23-year-old’s first call-up after years of being on the cusp of the NHL.
It has been hard at times to be patient, but Pokka said there’s still value in playing in the American Hockey League.
‘‘I think there’s still a lot of room for me to improve my game,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s been better every year I played there.’’
Panik out again
Winger Richard Panik was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game after a 21-game goal drought.
‘‘I don’t think he’s happy,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘That’s always a tough spot for players that have been regularly playing, then all of a sudden they’re out. But he’s worked hard, and we look forward to seeing him get back in and [are] looking for his contribution.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.