The Kraken got off the schneid with an important—albeit uncomfortably tight—2-1 overtime win over the Sharks on Thursday. With the team getting back to Seattle in the wee hours of the morning, we expected coach Dave Hakstol to nix practice Friday, favoring rest and recovery for his team. Instead, he did call for a brief on-ice session at Kraken Community Iceplex that lasted all of about 13 minutes.
Hakstol explained that with Seattle’s next game against the Edmonton Oilers coming Saturday at 1 p.m., there won’t be time for a morning skate prior to that game. “This just gives us the opportunity to get a sweat, to touch the puck, to get our bodies moving,” said Hakstol. “You know, it was a late night last night, so it was important to get up and get going.”
An important win in San Jose
We’ve talked many times on the Sound Of Hockey Podcast and on this website about the ebb and flow of an 82-game season. Sometimes things are going your way, and sometimes they’re not, and that’s just part of the journey. Things were going well for the Kraken when they won five straight games between Feb. 28 and March 5, but the Kraken fanbase was understandably on edge when the team followed that up with a loss against Ottawa and two more losses against Dallas.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Kraken got a desperately needed win in San Jose Thursday to stop the bleeding and get things going back in the right direction.
Hakstol gave a lot of credit for the win to netminder Philipp Grubauer, who made 31 saves on the night and only allowed a penalty shot goal to William Eklund. “We didn’t give up any ten-bellers, but we gave up a few chances,” Hakstol said. “He was solid, he was calm, we got going, and obviously the tying goal was a big play for us and got us going back in the right direction.”
Gourde / Tolvanen / Bjorkstrand back together
Another key in the win was the reunited line of Yanni Gourde, Eeli Tolvanen, and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand had the game-tying goal in the third period off a great stretch pass by Gourde and assisted on Vince Dunn’s overtime game winner.
Hakstol had split that trio up prior to the game against the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 28. He had seemed reluctant to break them apart, as the three had been his most consistent line for some time. But he ultimately slid Bjorkstrand into a top-six role with Jaden Schwartz and Alex Wennberg, replacing Andre Burakovsky on the wing. That change temporarily worked; the Kraken immediately went on a five-game win streak, and we don’t think that’s a coincidence.
But with things going sideways more recently, and the team back on a three-game skid, Hakstol went back to the trio that he knows and trusts for the San Jose game.
“Ollie’s a guy that— he’s found success with Wenny and Schwartz,” said Hakstol. “You know, he’s done a nice job there. But the chemistry that those three guys, he and Gourdie and Tolvy, have is really good.”
Hakstol added that the comfortability between the players stems from being good friends and teammates both on and off the ice.
“They spend a ton of time together off the ice. Half the time, when you walk around the corner of the facility, if you find one of them, you’re going to find all three of them.”
Gourde, Bjorkstrand, and Tolvanen sit in a row next to one another in the dressing room. We asked Bjorkstrand Friday if he likes playing with Tolvanen, and he joked, “No! Hate it!” before Tolvanen responded with a loud, sarcastic laugh.
**Editor’s note: Sound Of Hockey actually had an extensive conversation with both Bjorkstrand and Tolvanen Friday. We hoped to bring you a lot more insight from those players directly, but we had a recording mishap. So, summing up the conversation from memory, they really like playing together and trust one another. The chemistry is certainly there, even in the dressing room.
John Hayden makes his presence known
John Hayden was recalled from AHL Coachella Valley this week. There was no corresponding roster move made, so Jesper Froden remained with the Kraken. After the trade deadline, rosters expand, meaning teams can carry more than the 23 players that were allowed before March 3. This gives the Kraken a bit more roster flexibility, as they had carried two extra defensemen and just one extra forward since the Jaycob Megna deal in early February. Now, Hakstol has the option to insert a physical presence in Hayden when he sees fit.
“He’s just a character, straight-line guy,” said Hakstol. “You know what you’re gonna get, he’s honest in his approach off the ice, he’s honest in his approach on the ice. That [physical] element is a welcome element in our room, and he’s done a nice job whenever he’s been in the lineup for us this year.”
Hayden was physical early and often in San Jose. He laid a big hit on Logan Couture in the first period, and later crashed the net before getting in a skirmish behind James Reimer.
From the clip above, you can see how comfortable Hayden is pushing his opponents around, a quality that doesn’t exist for a lot of Kraken players.
Edmonton Oilers rolling into town
The next game for the Kraken is a big one, as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and the Edmonton Oilers visit Climate Pledge Arena Saturday. The intra-division matchup against the world’s best player always brings a heightened level of excitement, but now there are serious playoff implications on the line. Seattle officially trails the Oilers by just one point in the standings but holds a game in hand.
Getting back into the third spot in the Pacific would mean Seattle would take back an “automatic qualifier” spot that gets awarded to the top three teams in each division. Dropping out of the top three means Seattle is in the wild card conversation and fighting with teams in both the Pacific and Central for the final two spots in the postseason.
With the win against the Sharks, the Kraken have a four-point cushion over the Jets, who are in the last wild card spot, and a seven- and eight-point gap over Calgary and Nashville, two teams currently outside the bubble.
So, Seattle is still very much in the playoffs, but sitting in the top three in the division is a much more comfortable place than the wild card race, where there are so many more teams at play.
The Oilers are coming off a convincing 4-1 win over the Stars, a team that just beat the Kraken twice at Climate Pledge Arena. After Saturday’s game, Seattle will go on the road to play Dallas (again), Nashville twice, and Minnesota.