Seattle Kraken at Buffalo Sabres
4 p.m. Pacific time
KeyBank Center, Buffalo, New York
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: AM 950 KJR
For much of the first two months of the inaugural season for the Seattle Kraken, goaltending—expected to be one of the team’s biggest strengths coming in—was a glaring issue. Philipp Grubauer had a few good starts, but his stats sunk to among the worst in the league, and Chris Driedger, on few opportunities, hadn’t done much to bolster confidence in the team’s netminding.
Coach Dave Hakstol had leaned on Grubauer on the opening road trip, and when Driedger got his first appearance in relief, he got injured and missed several weeks. Then Driedger returned, but Hakstol continued to rely on Grubauer, even as his slump worsened.
Driedger got just two spot starts over a three-week span and only in situations where it was painfully obvious that the backup should be utilized. That changes on Monday, as Hakstol has indicated that Driedger will get the nod for the Kraken against the Sabres.
It will be Driedger’s second consecutive start after he backstopped Seattle to an impressive 4-1 win over the Panthers on Saturday with 33 saves. Against his former team, Driedger looked in control from the drop of the puck, stopping a Jonathan Huberdeau breakaway in the first two minutes. He was quiet in the crease, always in the right place and on time, and pucks were hitting him, even with traffic in front.
It was a big night for the likeable Driedger, who said the win was “about as good as they feel.”
With Driedger signed to a three-year contract, paying him $3.5 million per year, we at Sound Of Hockey fully anticipated that he would get a good share of the net with Grubauer, who signed an even bigger deal later in the summer. It hasn’t shaken out that way up to now, but Driedger getting the start on Monday feels like a step toward a more equitable division of labor.
In that game against the Panthers, Driedger showed that he is capable of winning, even against top teams in the NHL. He took advantage of an opportunity, and now Hakstol is rewarding him by showing some confidence in him with another start.
Of course, it’s a small sample size of recent successful outings by both Grubauer and Driedger, but it’s funny how these things can shift. Two weeks ago, we wondered if the Kraken goaltending would ever live up to expectations. If both goalies can build off recent positive performances, there’s a chance we will soon be debating nightly who should play in goal. If we get to that point, it will be a very good problem for the Kraken.
Will Borgen and Riley Sheahan also in again for Kraken against Sabres
Will Borgen spent the first 20 games of the season as a healthy scratch, continuing to show up and work every day, just waiting for his opportunity to play. Even with Mark Giordano in COVID protocol, it still felt unlikely heading into Saturday’s game that Borgen would get in, but he finally got his chance.
There’s been a season-long logjam on the Kraken blue line that has resulted in Haydn Fleury and Carson Soucy rotating in and out of the lineup. Borgen never factored in, but after Jeremy Lauzon had a tough game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday—he threw the pizza that eventually got one-timed in by Steven Stamkos to make it 3-0—Hakstol opted to scratch Lauzon for just the second time.
Borgen performed well in his debut, logging just under 14 minutes of ice time, with one shot on goal and five blocks. He also got involved in a dustup in the opening minutes of the game, showing he was willing to get involved physically.
The move to get Borgen mixed in more frequently makes plenty of sense. After all, he’s a right shot, which balances out the defensive pairings a lot more and means that only one player is on his off side instead of two. Vince Dunn has played the right side for most of the season, but was able to shift back to his natural side on Saturday.
It really was strange watching players like Riley Sheahan and Nathan Bastian—both of whom had played significant roles for Seattle—get waived, while Borgen continued to collect dust in the press box. But the team clearly values the young defenseman and resisted putting him up for grabs.
Hakstol had maintained that the guys who were playing were those who had earned the spots out of training camp, but he was clearly not pleased with the effort on Friday in Tampa. So, he shook things up for Saturday and liked what he saw. Borgen gets another chance for the Kraken Monday against his old team, the Buffalo Sabres.
Sheahan was recalled from Charlotte prior to Saturday’s game in Florida and also drew in in favor of Colin Blackwell. Sheahan is expected to play again Monday in Buffalo.
Eberle looks to stay hot for Kraken against Sabres
This is the second meeting between the Seattle Kraken and Buffalo Sabres. The Kraken won convincingly in the first game between these two teams at Climate Pledge Arena on Nov. 4. Jordan Eberle scored a hat trick that night, the first in franchise history, and has been (mostly) hot ever since.
Eberle scored twice on Saturday against the Panthers and now has 11 goals on the year, which leads the team by three. He had a three-game stretch prior to Saturday in which he was held off the scoresheet, and those three games coincided with nights where he was not on a line with Jaden Schwartz. Eberle and Schwartz were reunited Saturday, along with Yanni Gourde, and Eberle went right back to producing.
That can’t be a coincidence.