The Kraken might be finding their mojo. Thursday’s 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators felt like so many of the games from the 2022-23 campaign. It was common last season for Seattle to get in a position where it badly needed to score a goal, and lo and behold, some unexpected hero would step up with the clutch goal.
Thursday, it was Brian Dumoulin who came up with a massive response goal at 16:58 of the second period, just 24 seconds after Roman Josi had tied it for Nashville. Couple that goal with Philipp Grubauer’s play to close out the frame (Grubauer took a rare penalty to make things more difficult on himself, but he came up huge in those closing minutes of the second), and the Predators’ momentum was completely sapped.
The Kraken are now 3-1-1 in their last five games. Are they getting on a roll?
Here are our Three Takeaways from a 4-2 Kraken win over the Predators.
Takeaway #1 (Darren): A big game for Grubi
Grubauer continued Seattle’s run of strong goaltending Thursday, earning his second win in as many tries. The consecutive victories have to feel good for the German Gentleman, who played well in his first four starts but got almost no goal support in those outings and took L’s in all four.
What has been really encouraging from Grubauer is that he hasn’t been giving up the early goals that have plagued long swaths of his tenure in Seattle. In years one and two, it was a regular occurrence for him to give up a goal on one of the first five (or so) shots of the game, leaving the Kraken chasing from the jump. With Seattle very much struggling to find its legs in its first game back after a long road trip, Grubauer was sharp from the opening face-off against Nashville.
“You can’t control what’s coming at you,” Grubauer said of his approach to starting games. “If it’s a breakaway for the first shot or a fluffy from the red line, stop everything, right? That’s the mentality.”
Grubauer is playing aggressively, but when he gets outside the blue paint and gives up a rebound, he is reading the play and recovering quickly enough to slide and cover the follow-up shots as well. I recall a sequence in the second period (I can’t find video of it in the highlights, so this won’t be a great description) when Grubauer made a save to his right, then made a big push with his left skate and stopped a second shot from a bad angle. When he stopped the second one, he was a solid three feet outside his crease but was perfectly aligned to make the save. He recognized that as soon as the puck came off him, he needed to get repositioned in a hurry. It’s like he knows right where the play is heading even before it gets there.
Of course, his best save of the night came when Jaden Schwartz was in the box serving Grubauer’s own tripping penalty, just the second penalty of his career. Gustav Nyquist shot off Grubauer’s blocker, but the rebound went right onto the tape of Tommy Novak for what looked like Novak’s second power-play goal of the game. But Grubauer did a full split and got the toe of his right skate on the second opportunity, robbing Novak and helping his mates kill off the penalty he took.
“Sometimes it’s kind of awkward not being able to sit in the box there by taking the penalty,” Grubauer said. “There’s a couple of huge blocks, and we need those. It doesn’t matter who takes the penalty, sitting in the box, you want to kill it off for that guy and for the team.”
Grubauer ended the night with 32 saves on 34 shots, 1.99 goals saved above expected, two penalty minutes, and he helped Nyquist find his teeth on the ice after Adam Larsson knocked them out with a high stick in the first period. That’s quite the night!
By the way, when asked if Grubauer was actually hurt on the play where he took his penalty or if he was just milking it to get some sympathy from the refs, Grubauer said, “Wouldn’t you like to know! Next question.”
Takeaway #2 (John): Momentum for the power play
The power play has continued to improve as this season has gone on, and the Kraken notched another power-play goal on four opportunities last night. The Kraken are currently eighth in the league with a 25 percent success rate and are clicking at 35.7 percent over the last five games.
It still feels like there are moments where this team is struggling to enter the zone cleanly, but when they get set up, they are really moving the puck well. They are creating more options this season for scoring chances, instead of relying so heavily on Jared McCann and Daniel Sprong (like they did last season) to skate down from the left circle.
The Kraken ranked 21st in the league on the power play last season, so it is still a bit early to say if their top-10 ranking this season is the new norm for the power play or just some early-season luck.
Takeaway #3 (Curtis): Brian Dumoulin finds his footing
Dumoulin’s transition into the Seattle lineup has not been without its challenges. He has suffered a few notable defensive gaffes, and he has looked a step slow at times–perhaps still processing his role and fit in the Kraken system. As recently as last Thursday at Carolina, he blew a tire in the defensive zone attempting to take a breakout pass from Joey Daccord, which led to a turnover and an immediate Hurricanes score in a one-goal overtime loss.
Dumoulin has quieted some concerns over the last two games, though, showing savvy offensive instincts and sound, shutdown defense. He scored his first goal of the season Monday at Tampa Bay on a play where he read the strong-side action well and creeped down from his blue line position on the weak side with perfect timing to corral a rebound and shoot it before netminder Jonas Johansson could recover. Beyond the goal, he was Seattle’s best defenseman that night by on-ice shot quality at five-on-five. As measured by Natural Stat Trick, Seattle generated 77.05 percent of total shot quality when he was out there.
On Thursday night, Dumoulin may have been even better. He found the back of the net again on another skilled play. The Biddeford, Maine, native took open ice in front of him before changing the angle of his shot and simultaneously using Predator forward Cole Smith as a screen.
“We knew that their forwards sink back a little bit and try to block shots instead of coming out hard on us,” Dumoulin said after the game. “So, I knew I’d have an extra second there to try to create a lane for myself. And [Tye Kartye] did a great job screening the goalie also.”
The goal marked the first time in Dumoulin’s career he has scored in back-to-back games. “It’s great to contribute,” Dumoulin said of his goal-scoring streak. “With this team, everybody’s got to contribute for us to win. We’ve done that here in this last stretch. We’ve gotten goals from different people, and it’s important.”
Thursday’s goal–which put Seattle up 3-2 and held up as the game-winner–came at a crucial point in the game. Nashville had tilted the ice in its direction for much of the second period before finally breaking through with the game-tying goal at 16:34 in the period. Dumoulin responded just 24 seconds later. By scoring, he effectively wiped away all of Nashville’s hard work and gave Seattle the jolt it needed to hang onto this win.
Dumoulin’s contributions didn’t stop there. Though Nashville outplayed Seattle (except for Philipp Grubauer) over long stretches, Seattle generated 74.74 percent of total shot quality when Dumoulin was on the ice at five-on-five. This led all skaters for Seattle.
For the season, Seattle is generating more than 55 percent of total shot quality when Dumoulin is on the ice in five-on-five scenarios. This is fourth overall and second best among defensemen on the team, only fractions of a point behind his defensive partner Justin Schultz. Of course, Dumoulin and Schultz are taking some easier matchups, but this was likely Seattle’s vision when it signed Dumoulin to a two-year deal this offseason; take a player who has played first-pair minutes, move him down the lineup, and see if his productivity bounces back against lesser competition.
It’s a long season, and the sample size is still quite small. But, as it stands in early November, Dumoulin seems to have found his footing. “Obviously when you contribute you feel like part of the team,” Dumoulin said. “[I’ve] just got to continue to try to do that.”