After the Wild and Kraken played a snoozer in St. Paul last week, we were unsurprised to see a tight-checking, mostly low-event game Friday in Seattle. This time, the goalies were both sharp, and the outcome was a 1-0 drab affair. The result cost Seattle its winning streak, which was snapped by Minnesota at five games.
While both goalies were good when needed, Marc-Andre Fleury was excellent for the Wild, earning a 28-save shutout and racking up a bunch of saves in the waning minutes, including three in the last two seconds before the final horn.
28 saves was an appropriate number, as the Kraken became the 28th team Fleury has shutout in his career. The veteran netminder didn’t think anything of it, though, saying, “I think it just means I’m old, maybe. I’ve been playing for a while I guess.” The Kraken didn’t test Fleury as much as they have other goalies this season, but still, he came up big on a number of occasions.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a 1-0 Kraken loss to the Wild.
Takeaway #1: Can’t win ’em all
The first five-game win streak in Kraken history was memorable. As we look back on this stretch, let’s all be sure to cherish the good times we had along the way. Sadly, losses eventually have to come, because that’s just how sports work, and Seattle experienced that Friday after a slogfest.
The way the loss happened was frustrating, as both teams played suffocating defense that made the game look eerily similar to the one played between these two teams in Minnesota last week. The difference between the games was that Fleury didn’t play particularly well on his team’s home ice but was dialed in at Climate Pledge Arena.
Little was happening offensively Friday, yet it always felt like the Kraken were on the verge of breaking through. They just didn’t do enough to find an equalizer, and one Mats Zuccarello snipe was all Minnesota needed in the end.
“We gotta find more shots on the inside,” Yanni Gourde said. “There was definitely a lot of outside plays. Even the shots we were taking— we gotta find second [chances], find rebounds, we’ve got to be netfront. If that goalie sees the puck, most likely he’s going to make the save.”
Give credit to Minnesota, though. While the Wild also didn’t generate much in Seattle’s end, there was a visible determination to hold onto their tenuous lead in the later stages. “They don’t give you much out there,” said Justin Schultz. “They’re a heavy, big team, and they made it tough on us.”
The Kraken got a couple looks in the closing minutes with Martin Jones pulled for an extra attacker. The first good look came when Andre Burakovsky made a pass through the seam to Jaden Schwartz, but Schwartz partially fanned on the shot. The other came with just a couple ticks left on the clock, as Gourde and Oliver Bjorkstrand traded off banging away at pucks in front of Fleury.
Nothing doing, though. On to the next one.
During the streak, the Kraken did a great job of limiting the damage when they gave up goals. They would get right back on their horse and start pushing the momentum again. Now, let’s see if they can limit the damage on the larger scale and get right back to winning.
Takeaway #2: Let’s talk about the Kraken penalty kill
Early in the season, Seattle’s penalty kill was quietly becoming a liability and had dropped to one of the worst in the league. The team has turned that around in a big way, though. Since giving up two power-play goals to Vancouver in a 5-4 loss on Oct. 25, the Kraken have not conceded a single power-play goal since. That’s 16 consecutive kills and six whole games, bringing the Kraken up to a 75 percent success rate on the season. Friday, it was 3-for-3 once again.
“I think we did a great job [on the PK],” Gourde said. “Our defensemen were blocking big shots. We made the [blue] line hard to get when they entered in as well. We know our pressure point, and we executed that pretty well.”
The Kraken had an especially impressive kill in the second period. After Burakovsky hooked Sam Steel to thwart a scoring opportunity at 15:11, the team’s killers completely suffocated every zone entry Minnesota tried on the ensuing power play. Seattle eliminated any opportunity for the Wild to get set up in the offensive zone, bleeding the clock with iced puck after iced puck.
“With Jamie Oleksiak out, that’s a big hole to fill,” said Hakstol. “Guys stepped into that and didn’t miss a beat so that’s a real positive for that group in terms of the way they competed and got us through penalty kills.”
Meanwhile, Seattle’s usually dangerous power play had a tough night, going 0-for-4 and often looking out of sorts against an aggressive Minnesota PK.
“I thought we could have been a lot better on the power play for sure,” Schultz said. “There were moments, but I don’t think we were close to what we have been this year. Definitely had our chances, but couldn’t be the difference maker tonight unfortunately.”
Takeaway #3: Keep an eye on Seattle’s blue line
Things are going to be a bit more interesting on the blue line for the foreseeable future now that Jamie Oleksiak is on injured reserve. The Kraken had found a nice balance of right- and left-shot defensemen, with a clear-cut first, second, and third pair. Now, things are suddenly murkier.
Cale Fleury played his first game of the season Friday, taking Oleksiak’s spot next to Schultz for most of the night. Being that both Schultz and Fleury are right-shot defensemen, there were moments against the Wild where Fleury looked unsure of himself trying to dig pucks off the boards on his off hand. In general, we thought Fleury looked uncomfortable in the early going, but he settled in as the night wore on. Despite Hakstol shuffling up the defense pairs in the closing minutes, Fleury was out for a shift very late in the game.
“It’s not easy for him, coming in with that much time off,” Schultz said of Fleury. “I thought he did a great job. Made it easy, made simple plays, and he’s a great skater. He was good tonight.”
“[Fleury] battled hard for us,” added Hakstol. “There’s gonna be some rough patches, and there was that, but he worked through it.”
The late-game shuffling of the D-pairs was interesting and a rare sight for what has been a steady three-pair defense corps this season. Though the team didn’t allow many great opportunities against Martin Jones, who stopped 20 of 21 shots, we will be curious to see if Hakstol tries any different looks on the blue line moving forward. After all Fleury has been through this season, watching the first 14 games from the press box, he deserves to stay in for a while. Hakstol does now have a left-shot available to him with Gustav Olofsson recalled from the AHL, though, and we can’t help wondering if Goose could get a look at some point.