Seattle Kraken versus Washington Capitals
6 p.m. Pacific time
Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, Washington
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: AM 950 KJR
We’ve had this one circled on the calendar for quite a while. That’s right, folks, it’s finally Vitek Vanecek night at Climate Pledge Arena! The legendary former Kraken netminder is in Seattle for the first time since being selected in the Expansion Draft and then traded back to his old team, the Washington Capitals, without ever playing a game. Will he get a video tribute? Will fans honor him with a standing ovation? One can only hope.
While Vanecek’s first visit is certainly momentous, so too is the arrival of Alex Ovechkin, now No. 4 on the all-time goals list, and Mount Vernon’s own T.J. Oshie, the most famous of Washington-born NHLers.
Kraken look to stop the bleeding against Capitals
In case you haven’t heard, the Kraken have been in quite the tailspin since losing to the lowly Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 6. They’ve dropped six in a row, with their latest loss—a 7-3 drubbing by the Colorado Avalanche on Friday—making it feel like a bottoming out is fast approaching, if it hasn’t already happened. The Kraken do need to hit rock bottom before they can turn this thing around, so let’s hope that Friday’s game was as bad as this thing gets.
Coach Dave Hakstol is always even keeled when addressing the media, and he remained that way Friday night and at morning skate on Sunday. But he also confirmed that the coaching staff was not happy with the group’s overall performance against Colorado.
“There was a stretch of five or six games when we came back to this building off of our first road trip where we had mixed results,” Hakstol said Sunday. “But to my thinking, everybody in our dressing room would have been very proud of the standard that we had set during those games, results aside… the way we played, how hard we played, connected, and battling hard through those games. The game the other night, that’s not one that we can say we were proud of the standard that we set through that 60 minutes, and that’s what it looked like on tape as well.”
Bad performances where players can look themselves in the mirror and say, I need to be better next game can spark improved efforts. With pretty much every Kraken player leaving something to be desired on Friday, perhaps a collective moment of reflection will have a positive impact Sunday.
Here’s the thing, though. Even if the Kraken play better than they did on Friday, it’s more likely to be a “step in the right direction” or a “trust the process” type of moral victory than it is to be an actual win. Seattle faces a rolling Washington Capitals team that is 11-2-5 and 6-0-1 in its last seven games. It’s another example of how the timing of this very poor stretch of play by Seattle has been so damaging and could continue to worsen, as the opponents just get tougher and tougher.
Kraken shuffling their lines against Capitals
Hakstol stuck with a pretty similar mix of lines for the last couple games, but after Friday’s terrible performance, it’s no surprise he’s gone back to the drawing board, completely shuffling things up at morning skate.
For the first time since Jordan Eberle recorded a hat trick against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 4, he will be split apart from Jaden Schwartz. Eberle will start on a line with Alex Wennberg and Marcus Johansson, while Schwartz will go with Yanni Gourde and Calle Jarnkrok.
Eberle has been one of the few bright spots for the Kraken during this losing streak and is now up to nine goals and five assists on the season after adding a power play marker on Friday. He has points in each of Seattle’s last seven games.
For as tough as this matchup is on paper for Seattle, one bit of silver lining is that the Caps are on the second of back-to-back games with travel after they beat the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday. That most recent victory was a 4-0 shutout for Ilya Samsonov, his second in as many games. Coaches in the NHL almost never play a goalie twice in two nights, but there is an occasional exception to that rule if a netminder is coming off a shutout.
Will Peter Laviolette go right back to Samsonov to try to extend his streak? Or will he give the nod to Vanecek against his “old team?” Washington did not hold a morning skate on Sunday, so we will find out soon who will be in net. UPDATE: It will be Vanecek in net.
The Capitals’ goaltender selection is the least of Seattle’s worries. More concerning, Alex Ovechkin is on some kind of heater to start this season. The 36-year-old superstar is showing no signs of slowing down and has 14 goals and 15 assists in 18 games. He added his 743rd and 744th career goals on Saturday.
If you’ve never seen Ovechkin play in person and are going to the game, keep an eye on him when he’s away from the puck. It’s fascinating to watch him drift around the ice in a style that would drive most coaches up a wall. He lulls teams to sleep, and then suddenly strikes when they’re least expecting it.
Beyond Ovechkin, this is a deep team that comes at you with waves of offense all the way down its roster.
Washington is without Nicklas Backstrom, Anthony Mantha, and Lars Eller, but Oshie returned to the lineup Saturday, his first appearance since Oct. 27. UPDATE: Oshie is a late scratch due to a lower-body injury.