It wasn’t always pretty, but the Seattle Kraken overcame several defensive lapses Thursday and got two more huge standings points with a 5-4 overtime win over the Red Wings.
It was a high-flying, back-and-forth affair in which Seattle let a lesser opponent hang around by making some big defensive boo-boos. Good on ’em, though; they stuck with it and got the win in the end.
“We gotta stay patient, try to get back on track, and not make those mistakes,” said Oliver Bjorkstrand. “It’s a close game in the end, and it’s just important we got the job done.”
Jared McCann and Bjorkstrand got two goals each, and Philipp Grubauer replaced Martin Jones early in the second period, making 16 saves to earn the win.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a nerve-racking 5-4 Kraken victory against the Red Wings.
Takeaway #1: A timely goaltending change
When Seattle lost 6-3 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 10, we thought there were several moments in which coach Dave Hakstol should have given Jones the hook. It’s not always about the goalie, but when you make a change, it can have a calming effect for the rest of the team. Plus, you can usually tell by the third goal against if your goalie has it on a particular night. We didn’t think Jones had it that night at MSG, and we didn’t think he had it Thursday at Little Caesars Arena.
Against the Red Wings, Hakstol didn’t hesitate. Jones gave up a stinker—his third in two games—on an unscreened, short-side offering by Ben Chiarot at 3:07 of the first period. That negated Jared McCann’s game-opening goal and came on Detroit’s first shot of the game.
Early in the second, with the Kraken up 3-2 and hemmed in their zone, Jones went for a swim, overcommitting on Filip Zadina, who skated himself out of a shooting position. Zadina made a nifty backhand pass to Jonatan Berggren, and the net was wide open for an easy goal.
That was all Hakstol needed to see, and he sent in Philipp Grubauer after Jones had allowed three goals on just twelve shots.
“Jonesy— I didn’t think he was seeing the puck as well as he normally does,” said Hakstol. “That particular goal, the third goal, there was a lot of things that happened in front of him that we need to be better in defending. But we wanted to get Grubi in there to change the momentum a little bit, settle things down.”
Hakstol was rewarded for the decision; Grubauer was outstanding. He stopped 16 of 17 shots in 39:51 of game time, and the lone goal he allowed fell heavily on the shoulders of the defenders in front of him (more on that in Takeaway #2).
Grubauer’s best save was a save-of-the-year candidate. Late in the second period, and with the game in a tenuous position at 4-4, the Kraken had one of their many defensive breakdowns. Matty Beniers, Adam Larsson, and Vince Dunn all got caught below the goal line at the same time, and the puck ended up on Joe Veleno’s stick in front of the net without a Kraken defender in the neighborhood.
Veleno waited, deked, and appeared to have Grubauer dead to rights. But Grubauer lunged to his right and made an unbelievable save with the heel of his stick.
“It was a pretty athletic save in desperation,” said Hakstol. “He got back with his blocker and stick to make a huge save, and that kind of set the tone and settled things down for us.”
What a save!
Takeaway #2: The Kraken defense is shoddy right now
We aren’t sure what has been going on with Seattle’s team defense since the All-Star break, but it needs improvement. It’s easy to point at the goalie and say, “He should have had that,” but bad breakdowns led to Adam Erne’s six-on-five goal late in the first and Jake Walman’s highlight-reel goal late in the second. And, let’s not forget the aforementioned Veleno opportunity on which Grubauer rescued his mates.
“We felt like we kind of gave our goalies a tough time tonight with making saves, and obviously didn’t make it easy for ourselves,” said McCann. “We need to clean it up and be better tomorrow.”
On the Erne goal, Seattle had a delayed penalty coming, and Ville Husso was off for an extra Detroit skater. Larsson and Dunn were right next to Erne, but Larsson engaged with Veleno and Dunn did nothing to tie up Erne’s stick or push him out of Jones’s grill. Erne got his stick on Mo Seider’s shot and deflected it inside the post.
The Walman goal was a comedy of errors. First, Alex Wennberg threw a pizza to the blue line, before Jaden Schwartz bit on the fake shot and slid right by Walman. Meanwhile, Will Borgen and Jamie Oleksiak stood at either side of the goal crease, while David Perron was left all alone to screen Grubauer.
It’s becoming a common theme over several high-scoring games in a row that when Seattle gives up goals, they seem to have guys in the area that could take the body or lift up sticks, but they get caught puck watching.
Thankfully for their playoff hopes, the Kraken have played a couple inferior teams in a row, and they’ve gotten away with inconsistent play in their own zone. But, that needs to change quickly if they’re going to get past some of the better teams they’re set to face down the stretch.
“There’s a lot of things in there that we could critique and we want to be better at,” said Hakstol. “A lot of times that comes back to our puck play, but we were able to find a way through.”
Takeaway #3: Jared McCann and Oliver Bjorkstrand come up big
That was a pretty negative Takeaway for a crucial win, so let’s close this thing out with some warm fuzzies. Jared McCann and Oliver Bjorkstrand had a big night offensively for the Kraken and pushed them past the Red Wings.
We gave credit to Hakstol for his timely goalie change, but we also need to call out the lineup adjustment he made before the St. Louis game on Tuesday. It was a gutsy decision for him to separate Bjorkstrand from Seattle’s most consistent line with Yanni Gourde and Eeli Tolvanen, but the move has paid off with two straight wins.
Hakstol was clearly reluctant to make that change, which is why he tried guys like Brandon Tanev and Jesper Froden in Andre Burakovsky’s spot in the top six. But those guys are not top-six forwards. Oliver Bjorkstrand is a top-six forward, and he showed why on Thursday with two nice goals, including the overtime game winner.
Bjorkstrand’s first goal showed his offensive wherewithal in a couple different ways. First, he tried to set up Alex Wennberg with the always-dangerous pass off the pads. It did go to Wennberg but came off Husso’s pads a little too hot to for Wennberg to be able to skate into it. Instead, Bjorkstrand smartly crashed the net, and his old Blue Jackets teammate gave the puck back for an easy tap in.
“Every time [Wennberg] gets the puck, you got to get open,” said Bjorkstrand. “The rebound came to him, and I knew that if I found that area, he would try to find me. He made a good pass, and easy for me to put it in.”
Bjorkstrand’s second goal finally gave the Kraken an official power-play goal on the night, after they scored two separate times, mere seconds after power plays had expired. With a four-on-three advantage, Bjorkstrand made a simple play, looping around the zone, and shooting against the grain as Schwartz took away Husso’s eyes.
Goodnight; game over.
McCann, meanwhile, is somewhat quietly having a phenomenal season. He set another new career high for goals Thursday, using his quick release to score twice in the first period. He now has 29 on the season, and would have had No. 30 and a hat trick if he hadn’t launched a shot over an open net at the first period horn.
The Kraken face another inferior opponent Friday in Columbus. With the change to the top six, the offense seems to be clicking again. Now, if they can just clean up some of the defensive mistakes, they could get back on a roll in March.