The Kraken earned two important points by knocking off the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, retaking first place in their final game before the NHL All-Star break. After an uninspired performance Friday, Seattle rebounded with a mostly dominant—but not always perfect—game against Columbus and took a 3-1 win.
Not only does Seattle have the most points in the division now, it also holds the best points percentage and still has games in hand over the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights. Worth noting, the Kings play one more game before they go into their break, so they could go back ahead in total points. Still, the Kraken have put themselves in a terrific spot.
“It’s a really good response coming off of last night, and it’s a great way to finish off the month of January for our team,” said coach Dave Hakstol, just 24 hours after he voiced his displeasure with the way his group had played against the Calgary Flames.
Morgan Geekie, Alex Wennberg, and Eeli Tolvanen had the goals, and Philipp Grubauer had what Hakstol called an “undercover” good performance, stopping 24 out of 25 shots.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a 3-1 Kraken win over the Blue Jackets.
Takeaway #1: A big night for Morgan Geekie
It had been a long time since Morgan Geekie last found the back of the net for the Seattle Kraken. He scored four goals in five games between Oct. 25 and Nov. 3. Aside from that little stretch? Nothing.
Entering Saturday, Geekie had not scored in almost three months. On the eve of a nine-day respite from games, he finally got that
monkey 10,000-pound gorilla off his back and potted his fifth of the season.
Geekie got the Kraken on the board 8:40 into the first period. Carson Soucy passed to Geekie in the neutral zone, and he one-touched it to Tanev. Tanev then handed back to Geekie in the slot, and Geekie rifled it against the grain, fooling Elvis Merzlikins.
“It’s been three months,” Geekie said with an exasperated chuckle. “So, yeah, I’ve had chances. It’s not really something I worry about; that’s not really my role here. We’ve got lots of guys that score goals, and I know it’s not something I’m looked upon to do. But mentally, it was nice to see it go in for sure.”
He can say scoring goals doesn’t concern him because of his role, but Geekie is an offensive player at heart. The long drought had to be eating at him, especially considering how effective his usual fourth line has been this season, while he personally has gotten none of the shine.
But with two top-six forwards in Jaden Schwartz and Matty Beniers out of the lineup, and the team coming off a poor performance Friday, Hakstol jumbled his lines Saturday. Geekie was the primary beneficiary, as he was elevated to a quasi-third (or maybe second?) line, centering Brandon Tanev and Andre Burakovsky. Geekie got 15:40 of ice time, his highest of the season, and you could see his confidence building as the game went on.
“It’s a really good way to finish, going into the break,” said Hakstol of Geekie’s play. “He played a significant role, he played well, he’s jumping in there. He’s played quite a few minutes with Tanev, and Burakovsky added to that group. They did a good job tonight.”
Geekie said he knows he can play, and being lower in the lineup and even—at times—a healthy scratch is just how it is with the way the team is built. “We’ve got a great lineup, and if I’m out, I’m out,” he said. “But I know I can play a big role when called upon. With Matty being out, someone needs to step up, and I know I can be that guy for sure.”
Takeaway #2: Reminder that the Kraken got Eeli Tolvanen off waivers
Did you know the Kraken acquired Eeli Tolvanen because the Nashville Predators just decided they didn’t want him on their NHL roster anymore? No, seriously, that’s how they got him. The Predators just put him on waivers, and the Kraken were like, “Ok, we’ll take him.”
Well, since then, Tolvanen has carved out a key spot in the lineup, playing wing next to Yanni Gourde and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and he has been filling the net with pucks. The 23-year-old Finn is now up to eight goals in 15 games for Seattle, and he has scored in three consecutive contests.
His latest tally was a huge one. It put the game back on the rails for the Kraken after Kent Johnson had gotten the Blue Jackets back within one late in the second period.
Hakstol is a coach that might care more about what a player does on the defensive end of the ice and away from the puck than he does about how many goals a player scores. And he seems to love Tolvanen.
“He’s just a good hockey player,” Hakstol said. “You know, he does way more than score. You see his hockey sense, he’s got some defensive DNA to him. He understands the game, where to be. He’s one of those guys that finds the shooting lane defensively, he’s got a good stick, he’s got some toughness to him.”
That’s a sign that Tolvanen’s usage will not wane, even if his scoring takes a dip in the later stages of the year. Either way, he seems to be enjoying the early parts of his time with Seattle.
“There were some rough patches at the start of this year,” Tolvanen said. “Hockey wasn’t that much fun, and you know, coming here and getting the trust from the coaches and getting the opportunity to play a lot, it feels really good.”
Takeaway #3: What a ride this has been so far
We’re going to use this third takeaway to wax poetic for a moment, because this has been an awesome second season of covering the Seattle Kraken so far. The inaugural year was fun for different reasons, but the hockey wasn’t all that inspiring.
Now, as Seattle heads for the break in first place, it’s easy to envision this group making a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a few months. That’s wild to think about, and something we would have had a hard time truly believing at the start of the season. The group has come a long way and should be proud of what it has accomplished.
“It means a lot,” said Wennberg. “That’s pretty much why we’re putting in all the work, all the hard effort behind it, to be on top. And right now, we’re doing a lot of good things. We’re scoring goals, we’re working on special teams to be better, and goaltending has been unreal.”
Seattle has found a winning formula, and everyone is contributing. Still, the break comes at a great time, as the team is banged up right now.
With key players like Schwartz, Beniers, and Justin Schultz out, we’ve wondered how long the Kraken will have to find stopgaps and shuffle lines, even after their hiatus.
“We’ve got some guys that obviously are nicked up, guys that are out of the lineup,” said Hakstol. “Right now, we don’t feel like there’s anything that’s too long-term, so this seven days is well timed, and for the guys that are in the lineup, this has been a hell of a month.”
That’s about as specific as we’ve ever heard Hakstol get about injury timelines, so keep your fingers crossed that we will see those important players back soon after this break.
And then there were 2…
We’ve still yet to beat Philly and Tampa, but finally we’ve gotten over the hump against Columbus (both of our games last year were OTL)!
It’s been a great season so far, and the team has surpassed my expectations drastically.
I am concerned with the frequency that opponents are bullying our team and that our playoff run will get cut short as the physicality ramps up. Our only response is to send out #24 – I respect the effort but don’t think that’s the deterrent we might need.
I don’t want to see our skilled players get mushed.
The whole Tolvanen situation is insane. How Nashville couldn’t utilise him is an absolute mystery to me.