ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals goaltender Darcy Kuemper was standing in his crease during the second period of a Dec. 3 tilt with the Calgary Flames when all of the sudden, he saw Tyler Toffoli's elbow come right for his head. He gave Toffoli a little slash back, angered with the play but not feeling any side effects from it. Then, it hit.
Kuemper started to feel strange, "not right," as he put it. He went to the trainers, who pulled him out as he expressed signs of a concussion. Charlie Lindgren took over, and from there, Kuemper would begin a lengthy recovery from an "upper-body injury," where he didn't know exactly when he'd feel like Darcy again.
"I wasn't too sure," he explained. "We didn't really have a timeline for it. I was hoping obviously to be back as quick as possible. I was trying my best. But sometimes, you got to wait till you're healthy. And nothing you can do about it."
Lindgren recalls being with Kuemper while he worked his way back and seeing Kuemper make progress but see some setbacks when his head would start to bother him again.
"I think it became frustrating [for him] because he thought it was going to be a smooth process," Lindgren explained. I've never really dealt with concussion, but I know that's something a lot of guys struggle with and it's kind of unique to everyone."
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For Kuemper, getting back to full strength was a lengthy process. First, he had to let time do its work and allow the brain to heal. After that, it was about getting back into the swing of things and getting back up to speed with the fast-paced action of the game.
“Yeah, I think that's spending time with the goalie coach and getting your timing back, getting your rhythm back best you can and then you just gotta get out there and start playing again," Kuemper said, adding with a laugh, "It’s kinda like riding a bike. Just gotta trust the process, not overthink it, just go and play and make sure you’re doing what makes you successful.”
While he's been chomping at the bit to return, he still had nothing but good things to say about Lindgren and his performance as the team has started to turn things around after a rough start to the year.
"I’m excited to be back out on the ice. It’s never fun watching. A little bit easier when the team was playing so well and having so much success so that you don’t feel guilty that you’re not out there helping. [Lindgren] was on fire in there. I think the team really rallied around that. I'm super happy for him, happy for our group. We needed the points, so it was nice to see the guys get on a roll."
Looking back at the play, Kuemper doesn't hold anything against Toffoli and said it was just the speed of the game and him trying to get into position rather than an intentional hit.
In the end, Kuemper's back to his old self, and he believes he'll return and play one of the next two games as the Capitals play Ottawa and Winnipeg in a back-to-back on Thursday and Friday.
"Good to be healthy again, feeling good and ready to play," he smiled.