There was an eerie sense of, “Oh, we’ve seen this one before,” in Thursday night’s game between the Minnesota Wild and the Seattle Kraken. It had hints of the Kraken home opener against the Canucks, when Seattle dominated the second period, but Vancouver somehow got the only goal on a stinker through Philipp Grubauer’s legs. Then an ill-timed penalty in the third allowed the Canucks to tie that game a second time, and it was downhill from there.
There were a few distinct differences on Thursday, though, that showed the Kraken are learning from their mistakes and allowed them to emerge victorious against a good Minnesota Wild club.
The Kraken again dominated the second period Thursday, and again Grubauer faced only a handful of shots during those 20 minutes. Seattle did find one goal this time, and when the big chance came for Minnesota to tie it, Grubauer made a game-breaking save. Then when the ill-timed penalty was again taken halfway through the third, the Kraken netminder again came up huge, making a sequence of mind-boggling saves and getting some puck luck along the way to keep Seattle in front.
It was an impressive 4-1 win by the Kraken, who improved to 3-4-1 and fourth place in the Pacific Division.
A sloppy start and a turning point
Things got off to a shaky start for the Kraken. Minnesota had them hemmed in for much of the first 10 minutes, and the Wild drew first blood. Budding superstar Kirill Kaprizov gloved a puck down behind the goal line, dropped it to himself, and found Ryan Hartman in the slot. Hartman banged it home to give his team a 1-0 lead at 6:27.
Just seconds later, the Wild appeared to score again when a puck caromed off the skate of Marcus Foligno and into the back of the net. The officials immediately called no goal on the ice, but then reviewed to see if there was a distinct kicking motion. Haunting visions of opening night in Vegas surely came racing back for Kraken fans, but this time video confirmed that it was kicked. The goal was negated and Seattle dodged a huge bullet.
“The kicked-in goal is a real turning point, but it’s only a turning point if you take advantage of it,” coach Dave Hakstol said after the game. And Seattle did take advantage of it.
After that, Seattle started to find its sea legs, connected on some passes through the neutral zone, and quickly turned the tides of the game.
Haydn Fleury—a healthy scratch for the home opener on Saturday—scored his first of the season. From the corner, Jaden Schwartz threw the puck through the crease, hoping to find a deflection. Instead, it slid all the way across the ice surface, bounced off the side boards, and came out to Fleury in the high slot. Fleury dusted it off and snapped it through traffic. The puck changed directions on the way to the net and eluded Cam Talbot, bringing the Kraken level at 1-1.
A second period to remember
The first period closed with Marcus Foligno taking a four-minute double-minor for high sticking Joonas Donskoi. The Wild killed it off to start the second, but the power play, which gave heaps of zone time to the Kraken, set the tone for the period.
Seattle absolutely owned the puck during that 20 minutes, outshooting Minnesota 17-4.
Talbot was standing tall for the Wild, but Fleury broke through again at 7:33 for his second of the game. He took a sharp-angle shot that Talbot stopped with his shoulder, but the rebound dropped right onto Fleury’s stick, who was in full stride behind the net. Before Talbot could blink, Fleury had looped around and stuffed it into the open cage on the far side, giving the Kraken defenseman the first multi-goal game of his career.
With under 30 seconds left on the clock, Kirill Kaprizov stole the puck from Yanni Gourde at center ice. He raced in on a breakaway and deked to his forehand, but Philipp Grubauer shut the door for just his fourth save of the entire period. Had Kaprizov scored there, it would have unraveled a near-perfect period by Seattle.
Gourde took full responsibility after the game for the turnover, and heaped praise upon his netminder for bailing him out.
Bend but don’t break
The Wild threw everything at the Kraken in the third, as the comeback kids from Minnesota sought another victim of their late-game dramatics. The best opportunities came after Fleury interfered with Kevin Fiala at the 10:01 mark.
During that penalty kill, Grubauer showed why Seattle signed him to a six-year, $35.4 million free agent contract in the offseason, making a whole host of point-blank saves. He also got a bit lucky, when Joel Eriksson Ek had him dead to rights, but somehow pushed the puck through the crease, off the far post, and out the other side.
On the sequence of saves by Grubauer, Fleury said, “I was in the penalty box, so I was really thanking him for that. That was huge. I think that’s why he makes the big bucks.”
Two empty-net goals, one by Brandon Tanev and one that Mark Giordano remarkably banked off the boards from the defensive zone, sealed it for the Kraken.
Kraken are progressing
It’s still early in the season, but this was a big-time victory against a good club that has played well in the early stages. Hakstol seems pleased with the progress the team is making, and rightfully so. It’s fascinating to watch the Kraken learn from their mistakes from night to night, and comparing the Canucks game on Saturday with the Wild game on Thursday is a great way to see that happening in almost real time.
The odd-man rushes that plagued the team early on have been mostly curtailed, and when things have broken down—like they did at the end of the second on Thursday—Grubauer has been a saving grace the last couple games.
Meanwhile, the score-by-committee approach seems to be working suddenly. It’s been well documented that Seattle does not have a star scorer that will put up 30 or 40 goals, so it has to get production from its lower lines and its defense. Well, Tanev leads the team in goals and added to his total against the Wild, and Fleury scored two on Thursday. So… it’s working.
Can’t help rooting for Fleury
It’s hard not to root for Fleury. At the home opener, where teams traditionally announce the entire roster, he had to come to the bench in street clothes and give a wave to the fans, despite being a healthy scratch that night. He got back in on Tuesday against Montreal and played well, earning himself another game Thursday. Against the Wild, he took full advantage of his opportunity and earned first star honors for his two huge goals, including the eventual game winner.
The Kraken are a second-period team
The Kraken are proving to be a second-period team, and they showed it against the Wild in what Grubauer called one of the best periods he’s ever seen. They don’t always get off to hot starts, but they’ve tilted the ice in the second frame on multiple occasions now.
Explains Fleury, “Hak really stresses valuing the puck in the second period, trapping the other team in their zone with the long change. Our forwards did a really good job of that in the second. They really wore their D out down low in the offensive zone, and we were able to have a couple of quick-up plays where they weren’t able to change. And then their forwards and their D are out there for two minutes.”
It’s good to know that there’s a shift in the game script coming when Seattle is slow out of the gates, but the starts are the next problem that needs fixing. That will continue to be an emphasis for Hakstol and his staff moving forward.
Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great journalism here boys!