One: ‘Dunn’ with Recent Layoff?
Coach Dave Hakstol said Tuesday’s practice at the Kraken Community Iceplex was the first time in two weeks he recalls all players feeling good (not fighting off a widespread illness on the six-game road trip or recovering from injury). Center Matty Beniers participated but was wearing the no-contact red jersey but it was encouraging to see him skating completing all drills and scrimmaging.
Vince Dunn, the catalyst defenseman who has missed four games, looked good in practice and conversed with Hakstol to talk positioning during 5-on-5 and power play sequences. The coach said his top-scoring defenseman’s status for Wednesday’s home matchup with Chicago was a “game-time decision.” For his part, Dunn sounded ready.
“I’m excited to get back to the group today,” said Dunn, who said he was not out due to illness or any fight with an opponent, “no injury to my hands or my head or my shoulders. I feel like I’m on track and ready to play tomorrow [Wednesday].”
Dunn said the time off was “just something that was bothering me a little bit and just needed some rest.” His absence proved costly for Seattle during this stretch of four straight losses – sort of an unwanted proof case for both his offensive skill set to generate scoring chances and his capacity to deliver goals, assists, and/or net-front defense at clutch moments of tight games. He didn’t seem to think the layoff would require much adjustment once he is back alongside partner Adam Larsson.
“It’s nice to see moving bodies at full speed,” said Dunn about Tuesday’s spirited, high-energy practice. “I thought a lot of the drills today I was able to get touches in and get back into game-like situations.”
Two: Positives from Toronto Game, Plus Grubauer’s Back
Let’s start with goaltending: Philipp Grubauer will be back in uniform Wednesday after a third long stay on the injured list in the past two seasons. He handled one net during Tuesday’s practice and fellow goalie Chris Driedger (called up on an emergency basis, so doesn’t have to clear waivers) has been reassigned to AHL affiliate Coachella Valley after posting a 1-1 record in two starts and a .917 save percentage, which is precisely his career percentage in 67 NHL appearances.
Hakstol said “stepping away for 12 to 24 hours” from Sunday’s 3-1 (late empty-netter, so held the potent Toronto team to just a pair of goals) provided him with a positive spin on the loss to open the homestand which now moves to Chicago, St. Louis and Columbus at Climate Pledge Arene before a one-game trip to San Jose before the early February road trip. The suspended Yanni Gourde can return for the St. Louis game.
“It’s all part of the [recent] challenges and the strength of character inside of the room,” said Hakstol. “I really liked what our guys did against Toronto. I loved our effort. It’s a game that if we finish one more play, we’ve got a real chance to win … as disappointing as it was to walk away and lose that game, give the guys a lot of credit. Their effort was outstanding.”
Three: Know the Foe: Chicago Playing Without Top Pick Bedard
After notching 15 goals and 18 assists for 33 points to earn an All-Star nod in his first 39 NHL games, 2023 No. 1 overall pick Connor Bedard has been sidelined since a hit from New Jersey defenseman Brendan Smith on Jan. 5, landing the 18-year-old on the injured list with a broken jaw. He isn’t due back for another five weeks. Bedard, a North Vancouver native, was disappointed to miss his team’s visit to VAN Monday night (a 2-0 loss). Chicago already lost Taylor Hall for the year earlier in the season. CHI has scored just seven goals (plus one shootout goal) in the last seven games but nonetheless pulled out victories over the New York Islanders (overtime) and San Jose (shootout) in the last four games. WHL Seattle Thunderbirds fans can still catch up with another promising rookie, 2022 No. 7 overall pick, defenseman Kevin Korchinski, while Kraken faithful will see ex-SEA forwards Colin Blackwell and Ryan Donato getting plenty of ice time for Chicago. D-man Jaycob Megna, recently claimed on waivers by the Blackhawks after being a reserve all season here in Seattle, is playing regular minutes for his hometown team.