Sunday saw the dawn of a new week, and the potential dawn of healthier lineup.
Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, and Calle Jarnkrok – all missing in action for a grand total of nine man games lost since Nov. 26, all were seen on the ice as the Seattle Kraken returned from a day off to prepare for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who roll into town for a Monday night showdown and the only visit Sidney Crosby and company make in the Puget Sound for the regular season.
Eberle’s issues have lingered since leaving during a Nov. 29 victory in Buffalo and has been officially listed with a lower body ailment, temporarily shelving his run as Kraken leading goal scorer (11) since heading to the sidelines in a dead heat as one of the top ten goal scorers in the league, by numbers.
The subtraction came at an inconvenient time: the Kraken were about to complete their fourth win in five games, en route to a convincing 7-4 victory that reached a season and early-franchise high (7) for most goals in a game, while Eberle recently found his offensive stroke again, coming off a two-goal night the previous game at Florida after moving past a one-goal-in-six-games skid.
Eberle, seen taking reps in practice as a right winger for center Yanni Gourde and left winger Ryan Donato, and one of the two Kraken power play units as a half-boards option at the left circle, stopped short of confirming his place in the lineup on Monday.
“Tough to say,” Eberle said. “I just want to try to get out there. More than anything, it’s nice to get back and get contact and you feel part of it again. I’m just trying to take it day by day.”
Dave Hakstol said “we’ll make decisions later this afternoon and most likely tomorrow morning” on the availability of Eberle, Schwartz, and Calle Jarnkrok against the Penguins.
Schwartz, who’s been sidelined since Dec. 1 at Detroit and was last seen with a goal at Buffalo, still holds the spot as Kraken leading point getter (17) whose game has taken a turn for the better, on pace for a new career high (44) in assists while bagging a stretch of points in nine of 12 games and a signature four-point effort in the Hockey Fights Cancer victory over Washington on Nov. 21.
Jarnkrok, who’s battled to get on the scoreboard from the outset of the season which included a five-game absence at the start of the season in COVID-19 protocol, earned his first goal of the year in the Kraken Nov. 21 win against the Capitals.
Captain Mark Giordano, who Hakstol said is “nearing the end” of COVID-19 protocol, has missed the last five games.
Upon the Kraken finding a lineup boost or not on Monday, they will face a Penguins team rolling into Seattle off wins or points in seven of the last nine games (6-2-1) and a 4-1 win last night at Vancouver.
The Penguins, in the twilight of their recent championship window, still possess star power with effective star power. Sidney Crosby, after arriving on the NHL scene as an 18-year, first overall pick anointed as a “next one,” has won three Stanley Cups in 11 years along with longtime teammate Evgeni Malkin.
Crosby will make his first appearance in Seattle riding a five game point streak (2g-7a) in that span. Malkin, still recovering from knee surgery, was seen on the ice at an optional skate in Vancouver on Saturday morning, dressed in a no-contact jersey and has yet to play in a game this season. Still on injured reserve, the 35-year old forward looks to rebound from an uncharacteristic 28-point, 33-game season – where previously he has finished over a point-per-game each of the last eight years.
There are “revenge games,” then there are really robust “revenge games.” Adam Larsson had his on a Friday night in a stress-induced and tense 4-3 win against Edmonton, winding up with the postgame Davy Jones hat honors in the dressing room.
Monday will bring Brandon Tanev, Jared McCann, Jamie Oleksiak, and Riley Sheahan all to the same building against the Penguins. Perhaps, fresh emotions still resound for Tanev and McCann – both suiting up for the Penguins for the last two seasons or more, and in their lineup for 19 combined Stanley Cup Playoff games.
McCann, technically traded from the Penguins before the expansion draft to the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Penguins opted to protect forwards Crosby, Malkin, Jeff Carter, Teddy Blueger, Jake Guentzel, Kasperi Kapanen and Bryan Rust, was exposed anyway by the Maple Leafs after burying 14 goals in only 43 games last season for the Penguins.
“They didn’t want me, that’s the way I look at it,” said McCann. “Pretty simple, I play for the Kraken now and this is where I want to be.”
Where McCann is now: a top gunslinger for a power play that is firing on target at a frequent pace, nine-of-30 (30.0) since Nov. 9 which paces second best in the NHL. McCann leads the Kraken and ranks fourth in the league with five power play goals.
Matched with Tanev and center Morgan Geekie on a line ever since the conclusion of a Nov. 26 loss at Tampa Bay, he’s helped spur the Kraken to a 5-1-1 run including wins over Washington, Carolina, Florida, and Edmonton – all tough outs in the NHL this year.
Hakstol called the trio a “sound and trusted two-way line.”
“We need that from each one of our groups,” said Hakstol. “It’s not good enough to produce offense, you have to play 200 feet. Those guys have done a pretty good job of that together.”
“The way we’ve been playing has been great, we’ve beaten some of the top teams in the league,” said McCann. “Tomorrow’s going to be no different. We’re going to come in with mindset as underdogs and it’s been working for us."
Oleksiak, seven games away from the 400thin his NHL career and a participant in two seasons in game action, the dressing room and on practice ice with Crosby, knows the challenge of defending the famed future Hall-of-Famer who dons number 87 on his back.
“He’s not going to take any shifts off,” said Oleksiak. “He’s going to compete hard. The guy wants to win and we’ve got to make sure we don’t make it easy for him. We’ve got to bog him down all the time with our stick, don’t give him space, and make it a tough night for him overall.”
KRAKEN AT PRACTICE, DEC. 5:
Power play units:
Unit 1: Dunn, Eberle, Donskoi, Wennberg, Johansson
Unit 2: Soucy, McCann, Geekie, Donato, Gourde