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Scenes from morning skate: Caged Kuzmenko cleared to return for Canucks vs Kraken

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
3 months ago
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The Vancouver Canucks will get Andrei Kuzmenko back for tonight’s game against the Seattle Kraken. The Russian winger missed Thursday’s game in Calgary after being struck in the face by a JT Miller slap shot on a third period power play in Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory against the New York Islanders. Sporting a clear plastic jaw guard to protect some bruising and a few stitches on his chin, Kuzmenko was back on the ice with his teammates for a full morning skate at Rogers Arena.

What we saw

Kuzmenko won’t be the only change to the Canucks line-up tonight. Akito Hirose draws in on defence and Thatcher Demko returns to the net after backing up Casey DeSmith on Thursday. Mark Friedman was out early and stayed out late this morning and appears to be the odd man out on defence tonight.
The Canucks launch into a second straight five-game in eight night stretch of their schedule starting tonight. JT Miller and Quinn Hughes both carry team-high six game point streaks into action tonight. Miller has 4+7=11 while Hughes has 2+9=11 on his streak. Those are the longest active point streaks on the team after Filip Hronek’s 11-game run came to an end against the Flames.
This first instalment of the Carson Soucy Cup will take place without the injured Carson Soucy who left the Kraken in the off-season to sign in Vancouver. This is the Kraken’s one and only visit north of the border this season. The Canucks will be at Climate Pledge Arena next Friday. After that, the I-5 rivals won’t see each other again until February 22nd for their final meeting of the season. It’s disappointing scheduling that sees these Pacific Northwest clubs meet just once over the final 60 games of the season.
The Canucks power play is on fire these days going 10 for 26 (38.5%) over the past six games. The flip side of that is that the power play has accounted for 10 of the 24 goals the team has scored in that stretch. Of the last 24 goals scored, 11 have been scored at 5-on5, 10 have been on the power play, the club scored a pair of empty netters in Montreal and a 3-on-3 OT goal against the Islanders earlier in the week.
A rested Thatcher Demko returns to the crease and will look to improve on his 6-0 record at home where he has allowed just 8 goals at Rogers Arena this season. And of those eight goals, four have been on opposing power plays and four have been at even-strength giving Demko a .970 even-strength save % on home ice.
It’s interesting to note that both the Canucks and Kraken have scored 20 first period goals this season. Over the balance of their games, however, the Canucks have scored twice as many goals as Seattle (52-26) including a 29-14 edge in second periods.
One of the storylines to watch heading into tonight’s game is the fact that these are two of the top three power plays in the NHL over the past three weeks. Two of Since October 30th, the Canucks are 15/39 (38.5%) with the man-advantage while the Kraken are 10/31 (32.3%) over that time frame. Both teams scored three power play goals in 4-3 home ice victories over the New York Islanders this week.
Seattle is led in scoring by defenceman Vince Dunn who carries a five game point streak (0+6) into action tonight. On the season, Dunn has 2+14=16. Jaden Schwartz leads team with eight goals and five power play goals. Former Canuck Jared McCann has seven goals on the season. The trio of Schwartz (8), McCann (7) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (6) account for 21 – or 45.6% – of the Kraken’s 46 goals this season. No one else on the team has scored more than three goals.
To that end, a lack of depth scoring is one one of the reasons the Kraken sit 29th in the league ahead of only the Sharks, Islanders and Capitals in goals per game averaging 2.56 per outing.
The Kraken generally keep things close and have been to overtime in seven of their 18 games this season with six of those contests coming on the road. They are 3-4 in games decided beyond 60 minutes (2-2 in games settled in OT and 1-2 in shootouts).
After killing off 15 of first 16  penalties they took in first six games, over their past 12 games the Kraken penalty kill has fallen off a cliff and is at 63.4%. Only Minnesota (a ghastly 57.9%) is worse over that stretch of the schedule. That includes multiple power play goals against in five of  Seattle’s last 12 games. Overall, Seattle’s PK is 28th in the league at 71.9%.
Defenseman Adam Larsson is the only player to appear in every Kraken game ever played – regular season and playoffs.
Philipp Grubauer gets the start in net for Seattle tonight. He is 4-6 on the season with a 3.30 GAA and an .890 save percentage.
Tonight’s referees: Trevor Hanson and Pierre Lambert

What we heard

Andrei Kuzmenko on returning to line-up after missing just one game: “I am happy because I am broken. Puck shoot. It’s a little down, it’s a little up. I have a problem, yes. I like at this moment because after one game I come back. I like it. It’s very important moment for me.”
Dakota Joshua on whether the Canucks-Kraken games feel like any sort of rivalry: “You’ve got to give it years to build those good fan rivalries for sure. It’s a really good team and we have really great battles with this team every time we play. It’s never going to be easy and some games do have that big game, rivalry feel. But we’re just worried about ourselves and bringing that high-intensity battle effort and trying to get two points against these guys.”
Rick Tocchet on lack of 5-on-5 goal lately: “I care. You have to be a five-on-five team, you can’t just rely on the power play. Teams are scouting us and cutting off our resets. We’re a reset team and I think our guys are leaking for the resets too early and they’re cutting them off. To combat it, we have to be around the net more and have better body position. When you know the puck is coming to you, you have better body position on the guy. Sometimes we’re leaking away and the guy gets in front of you. I’ve seen that lately. Because of our start, teams are looking at what we’re doing and now we have to combat it.”
Tocchet on Pius Suter’s status with the forward set to miss his third straight game with an undisclosed injury: “Day to day. I think he was a little bit better today, but it’s a day to day thing to be honest with you.”

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