With a hearty 4-1 thrashing of the sad-sack Vancouver Canucks behind them, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in Washington state to face the recently-minted Seattle Kraken for the first time ever. I haven’t heard or read otherwise, but this could their first visit to Seattle ever; the Penguins were an expansion team 43 years after the previous Seattle franchise, the Metropolitans, was forced to fold when they could not find new accommodations when the University of Washington bought out the final year of the Metropolitans’ lease on the Seattle Ice Arena, all of which would be a completely foreign concept in this day and age of multi-millionaire sports franchises and college sports endowments. Those Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in their second season in 1917, back when the regular season champions of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and the National Hockey Association faced each other in a best-of-five series in March. Again, foreign concepts all, but this was over 100 fucking years ago and shit has changed a lot.
At least for this year, it seems the Kraken are not going to be Cup contenders. Just two points ahead of the Canucks for seventh in the Pacific Division, while the climb into the playoff race is not completely insurmountable, they will have to maintain their recent run of good form. After the first seventeen games of the season, Seattle was just 4-12-1, and their goaltending has been just abysmal. They’ve allowed the fifth-most goals against and have worst save percentage in the League while they’ve allowed just the sixth-fewest shots against. The ~22 goals allowed above expected that they’ve allowed is the highest rate in the League. It has been a rough season for Phillipp Grubauer, who just last season finished third in Vezina voting.
But since their 7-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on November 19, the Kraken have won five of their last seven, including an impressive 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers on the 27th and a 4-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. They may be hard-pressed to be successful if they have to play for much longer without some of their key players, with Calle Jarnkrok and Chris Dreidger on injured reserve, Mark Giordano out on the COVID-19 protocol list, and Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle both nursing lower-body injuries. Eberle and Schwartz are the Kraken’s leading goal and assist leaders, respectively, while Giordano is their captain. Not that the Penguins will complain, as they have of course dealt with their own share of injuries and health issues over the years, including this season.
That being said, the only two players the Penguins are missing as of this moment are Bryan Rust, still expected to be out for another couple of weeks or so, and Evgeni Malkin, who has been skating with the Penguins in a non-contact fashion for as long as Rust has been out (go figure), and Malkin appears to be closing in on his return. We’ve seen with Sidney Crosby that although the leg speed is still there, the killer finish that we’ve seen from him in the past doesn’t appear to be there as much. The inverse will probably be true for Malkin, who has dealt with lower-body injuries aplenty over his career, but all he needs to do is maintain his deadly shot and physicality and I think things will work out in the long run. In both cases, we’re talking about two accomplished and really smart guys, and the Penguins will be glad to have them both in the lineup at some point hopefully sooner rather than later.