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Steel City showdown: the Kraken visit the Penguins

A kraken should easily beat a penguin, but yet...

A bird’s eye view of Sidney Crosby and Alex Wennberg facing off at center ice at Climate Pledge Arena Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

What: Seattle Kraken at Pittsburgh Penguins

Where: PPG Paints Arena

When: Thursday, January 27, 2022; 4:00 pm PT

Wait, who are we playing?: Landlubber’s Guide to the Pittsburgh Penguins

Coverage

Local TV: ROOT Sports NW

Streaming: ESPN+ or Hulu Live

Local Radio: 950 AM KJR

SiriusXM: Channel 205

Last Time Out

When the Penguins marched into Seattle, it wasn’t pretty for the Kraken. The Penguins immediately dropped 3 goals on them in only 5 minutes and 7 seconds of play time, Grubauer got pulled, I began to wonder what kind of vendetta teams from Pennsylvania have against our goalie...it was not a fun time!

The Kraken at least had one shining moment when Jordan Eberle scored 3:43 into the second period, but it wasn’t enough to stage any sort of comeback. In fact, the Pens responded by scoring 3 more goals. So much for a Jared McCann or Brandon Tanev revenge game.

Stats, Streaks, and Droughts

The Penguins are currently riding a 6-game winning streak and have climbed up to second place in the Metropolitan Division (both in points and points percentage). In fact, they’ve won 17 of their last 19 games. The December 6th game against the Kraken turned out in retrospect to be the 2nd game in what was a 10-game winning streak for the Pens. So, losing is a bit of a foreign concept to Pittsburgh right now.

Wish I could say the same for the Kraken, but even with the boost that Davy Jones’ presence has brought to the team, the Kraken have still done a lot of losing since they last saw the Penguins, including a 9-game losing streak.

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang recently went on a whopping 10-game point streak where he produced 2 goals and 13 assists in those games. That must be nice, to have players who actually go on point streaks. The Kraken are instead mired in droughts. Joonas Donskoi’s inability to score a goal all season is probably known all too well at this point, but it’s the most looming of them all, so I need to mention it. Yet, the lack of scoring goes beyond him. Eberle hasn’t scored a single goal since the last time the Kraken played the Penguins, and he has now gone 7 games without even putting up an assist. That’s Seattle’s All Star, remember. Yikes.

Players to watch

Evgeni Malkin: The Kraken didn’t see Malkin the last time they played the Penguins. He was still out with his injury, but he’s back. In the 8 games he’s played, he has 9 points. Over a point per game pace, that’s no big deal. But he’s worth watching tonight regardless of whether he gets on the scoreboard just because this will be the only time Kraken fans get to watch him all season, and he’s worth watching every second.

Sidney Crosby: This is pretty much always going to be the case when facing the Penguins, but he got himself a hat trick against Columbus a couple nights ago, including the most bonkers empty net goal I’ve ever seen in my life.

He swears he didn’t do it on purpose, but do I actually believe him? No. I think this meme is actually what was going through his head the entire time.

Mike Matheson: If the Kraken let him score? Just pack it up and go home. He’s won the game. 5 of his 6 goals this season have been the game winner — and the reason it’s not a 100% rate is because he scored 2 goals in one night against the Senators. So, really, we could better look at this by saying that every game he’s scored in, he’s notched the game winner. In fact, no other defenseman in the league has scored more game-winning goals. He also has 6 points in the past 5 games, so he’s in the middle of a hot stretch.

Injuries, Illnesses, Additions, & Scratches

We’re talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins here, so odds are high I could write this and then suddenly it turns out a player fell on a particularly slippy spot of ice outside the arena and now he’s out week-to-week. (Yes, slippy, not slippery. Welcome to Pittsburghese.) The Penguins are truly one of the most injury cursed teams in the entire league, and it never bodes well to begin to speculate that the team is finally to full health.

Center Teddy Blueger is out 6 to 8 weeks with a broken jaw after a nasty hit from Brendon Dillon during their recent home game against the Winnipeg Jets. Jason Zucker came back from injury, played one game against the Vegas Golden Knights, put up 2 goals against them, and then suddenly he was out again and needed core muscle surgery. Third-string goaltender Louis Domingue was injured during practice and now he’s out week-to-week as he’s seen using a scooter to get around the arena.

Domingue’s injury matters for the Penguins despite him only playing one game for them because their goaltending situation is in need of some tweaking. While Tristan Jarry has been lights out for the Penguins with a .926 save percentage, backup goaltender Casey DeSmith has a save percentage of .886 in 9 games played. The Penguins have a back-to-back situation, and I would argue that perhaps whether they start Jarry or DeSmith would make a major difference, but I almost forgot the Kraken gave DeSmith his first victory of the season, so never mind.

As for the Kraken, there’s no notable changes so far. Soucy and Oleksiak are still out, so is Schwartz, and it’s an away game, so there won’t be a shout of “release the Kraken” from Brandon Tanev as part of his return to participating in team-related things. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s lineup tinkering in some way. After all, Donskoi was a healthy scratch against the Panthers, and then Morgan Geekie became the scratch against the Predators. Hakstol is trying to instill a sense of urgency among his forwards it feels like by sending a message that their places in the lineup aren’t secure. I’d honestly like some stats on the success rate of the strategy of the healthy scratch to figure out whether this is the right move.

Odds & Ends

  • Jeff Carter signed a contract extension with the Penguins for the next two seasons at an AAV of $3.125 million. That’ll pay for a lot of Welch’s Fruit Snacks.
  • We all had Brian Boyle scoring a between-the-legs goal on our ‘21-’22 season bingo cards, yes?
  • Even if for some reason the Kraken don’t allow the first goal, that might not indicate much of anything, because in the past 5 games where the Penguins allowed the first goal, they won the game anyways.