The Kraken came back from a 2-0 first period deficit to defeat the Canucks in Vancouver Tuesday night, 5-2. Seattle had been winless in its first six road meetings against its geographic rival to the north dating back to last year, but the Kraken have now won their first in Rogers Arena, taken two straight from the Canucks, and even “won” the 2022-23 season series with Vancouver, five standings points to four.
More importantly, the Kraken now have 94 standings points overall with five games remaining on the schedule. The team is now just one victory (or two standings points, however secured) away from earning its first ever berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (More on this below.) The stakes are clear for this team as it returns to Seattle Thursday for a second game in four days with the Arizona Coyotes.
The Kraken penalty kill wrote the narrative in Vancouver. The team was five-for-five killing penalties overall (including one in the first period and a double-minor in the third period), but it was how the team handled two overlapping penalties early in the second period that really changed this game.
The Kraken came into the second period down 2-1. They weathered a first Vancouver power play chance late in the first and into the second, but couldn’t convert that kill into any momentum because the team quickly took two more undisciplined stick infractions. First, Vince Dunn tripped Sheldon Dries at 2:17 in the second; and then, just over a minute later, Alex Wennberg’s stick caught J.T. Miller up high.
Facing an extended two-man disadvantage of almost a minute, the Seattle penalty killers did an admirable job winning the defensive zone draw, clearing the zone, and then denying controlled zone re-entries for much of that time. Yanni Gourde, in particular, stood out for his active work.
After killing the first penalty, Kraken defenseman Carson Soucy attempted a clear, but the puck ricocheted off Conor Garland and directly to Brandon Tanev who broke up the ice one-on-one with Vancouver defenseman Akito Hirose. Jared McCann jumped into the play as well, which held Hirose off, and Tanev snapped off a wicked wrist shot high blocker for a shorthanded goal at 5:07 in the second period.
Tanev’s score only tied the game at 2-2, but it effectively ended the night for Vancouver. The Canucks managed just six more shots on goal over the remaining 35 minutes of game action and never again looked like a team capable of beating Seattle. The Kraken, on the other hand, poured on 17 more shots on goal and lit the lamp three more times (including an empty netter). The penalty kill was the difference maker.
After the game, Kraken coach Dave Hakstol noted the importance of this stretch. “The kills in the second, the five-on-three, and then finding a [short-handed goal] to tie the game up, that really energized the bench,” Hakstol said.
Penalty Kill. As mentioned above, Seattle went five-or-five on the penalty kill. Since January 16, 2023, the Kraken rank second in the NHL in fewest opponent power play goals allowed, with just twelve allowed. The Carolina Hurricanes are first in this stretch with just eight allowed goals. Similarly, the Kraken are second overall in net goals while at a manpower disadvantage in this time period. The Kraken have scored four shorthanded goals, for a net negative eight goals overall; again only the Hurricanes are better, at net negative five. Good stuff from this group, which has found its footing since going to a diamond scheme and incorporating Jared McCann as a forward penalty killer.
Matty Beniers. Some of the talk coming into this one was about payback for Vancouver defenseman Tyler Myers for his hit on Beniers during the last meeting between these two teams. Kraken coach Dave Hakstol conceded before the game that the team hadn’t forgotten that hit, but insisted the team’s focus was on two points and the drive for the playoffs. Beniers did not disappoint in this regard. After Brandon Tanev leveled the score at two goals apiece, Beniers’ line went to work at even strength, and the young forward ground away on the boards, won the puck battle, and centered for Jordan Eberle for a beautiful go-ahead, game-winning goal.
This is the type of play the Kraken will need to see from the young Calder Trophy candidate if the team is going to make any noise in postseason play.
Later in the second period, a ferocious backcheck from Beniers foiled a J.T. Miller shorthanded scoring chance. Hakstol called it a “huge” play that “erased what could have been a game-changing mistake.” Kraken fans have come to expect this kind of defensive play from Beniers, but it is worth taking a moment to note just how incredible Beniers’s defensive contributions have been this year. On-ice shot effect models characterize his defensive zone play as somewhere between very good and elite. And all of this is coming at a young age, before we would expect Beniers’s defensive play to peak. The sky is the limit for him on the defensive end, particularly if he can add some more strength to his game and improve his face-offs.
Source: JFresh Hockey
Defensive structure in the second half of the game. As mentioned above, the Vancouver Canucks managed just a half-dozen shots on goal over the second half of the game. The Kraken suffocated Vancouver’s transition game through the middle of the ice and shut down the dangerous scoring areas in the zone. In the third period, Natural Stat Trick credited Vancouver for generating shot quality worth just about one-third of an expected goal. This was great work by the Kraken protecting a lead—something the team has struggled to do in the past.
The Bjorkstrands. Oliver Bjorkstrand was a late scratch and did not play in this one because he was needed back in Seattle for the imminent birth of his first child. Congratulations to the Bjorkstrand family.
Some poor defensive coverage in the first period. A few lackadaisical plays in coverage through the middle of the ice and in the defensive zone cost the team in the early going. First, certified Kraken killer Elias Pettersson tipped in a goal when Will Borgen failed to neutralize him in front of the net. Later, Anthony Beauvillier finished off a cross-seam pass—read poorly by Martin Jones and the Kraken defense—into an open net. Fortunately, from Seattle’s perspective, Yanni Gourde found the back of the net on a screened long-distance wrister to give the team some momentum at the end of the first frame.
Alex Wennberg’s stick control. Wennberg took six minutes worth of penalties for getting his stick up into the faces of his opponents. Generally, Wennberg is a disciplined player who does not take many penalties, but he should be thankful his teammates picked him up in this one.
Jesper Froden and line shuffling. With Bjorkstrand out, Jesper Froden drew in on Yanni Gourde’s wing. Froden did not skate a normal compliment of shifts, however. Indeed, he ended with just 4:55 in total ice time. The coaching staff likely did not trust Froden to jump back in at full speed after such a long layoff. This led to some line juggling throughout the game and some sequences where the forward lines seemed out of sync.
Kraken prospect has a big night. Here’s a fun one: Jagger Firkus scored three straight goals for the Moose Jaw Warriors Tuesday in the first round of the WHL Playoffs. Moose Jaw is on the brink of eliminating Lethbridge, so it seems we will likely get to keep seeing the Firkus Circus for a while longer. We’ll be watching.
This Kraken team is built differently. This Kraken team generates offense in a fashion unlike any team the NHL has recently seen. According to the ROOT Sports broadcast, this Kraken team is the first since the 2005-06 season to have 13 different skaters record 30 or more points. And ROOT Sports’s Scott Malone noted on Twitter that the Kraken are the first team in more than 30 years to have 13 different players score 12 or more goals.
The depth of scoring has powered this team to within striking distance of the playoffs. “That’s been a part of our group’s success all of the way through and it’s going to have to continue for us to be in [the playoffs] and for us to have success once we get in,” Hakstol said after the game. Will it translate if and when the Kraken qualify for the postseason? That is the question.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are in sight. The Kraken now have 94 standings points and sit in the first of two wild card positions in the Western Conference. Seattle is competing with the Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, and Nashville Predators for these two playoff spots. If Winnipeg wins out its remaining games, the Jets would end up with 99 standings points. If Nashville wins out, it will get 96 standings points. If Calgary wins out its remaining games, it will end with 95 standings points. Since the Kraken already hold the regulation win tie-breaker on Nashville, regardless of the remaining games, this means the Kraken need to match Nashville’s maximum point total (96) to clinch one of the two wild card spots in the playoffs. In other words, the Kraken need just two more standings points from their remaining five games to clinch the postseason. They’ll have a chance to get those two points at home on Thursday night against the Arizona Coyotes.