Seattle Kraken fans finally got their wish on Tuesday, as their newly-minted NHL franchise took the ice for the first game in franchise history. There was a lot to like, some things to fix, and a few moments when you just wanted to hide your face in your hands and hope for the net to come off the moorings. And we’ll get to all that. First, this has to be said.
Way to go, NHL. You blew it. First NHL game, first game lost to a blown call and a failed video review. What could be more NHL than that?
It was a whirlwind 36 hours leading up to the franchise’s first game, and not in a good way. Things started okay on Monday with Mark Giordano being named Captain, alongside a squad of 4 rotating assistant captains. Then we plucked an up-and-coming forward off the waiver wire.
Then, it was announced that Joonas Donskoi, Marcus Johansson, Jared McCann, and Jamie Oleksiak were placed into COVID-19 protocol. With Yanni Gourde and Colin Blackwell injured and Calle Järnkrok already in COVID-19 protocol, this left the team scrambling just to scrape together enough forwards to put a team on the ice.
Kole Lind was officially recalled, though he had never been sent physically to Charlotte. Alexander True was sent to Charlotte last week, he was recalled as well. The team, minus the COVID-19 protocol participants, got on the jet and headed to Sin City. That was all on Monday.
Then before noon on Tuesday it was rumored that Johansson could be eligible to play by game time. By early afternoon everyone who had been placed in COVID-19 protocol the day before had cleared with a negative test, and were officially eligible to play — but they were back in Seattle! So on to a private plane went four players and their gear, joining the team before heading to the rink for warm-ups.
If you think that hight-stakes round of Musical Chairs was unnerving for the players, consider Coach Hakstol trying to assemble a team that wouldn’t be an embarrassment. Monday noon, tear up roster and game plan, start over. Tuesday 3pm, tear up new roster and new game plan, search through trash to find Monday’s roster and game plan.
Given this level of chaos leading up to game time, it was no surprise that the Kraken were shaky in the first 20 minutes. The first minute of the game was actually really encouraging, with some sustained pressure in the Vegas zone leading to Jordan Eberle with the puck on his stick and a gaping maw of a net in front of him (he shot high). Around the 14 minute mark Brandon Tanev also gave Kraken fans hope, getting sprung on a short-handed breakaway before the puck skipped over his stick and into the corner.
The Kraken had shifts where they looked very solid, and they also had shifts where they weren’t quite executing the game plan that Coach Hakstol had laid out for them. Vegas took advantage of a couple of routine mistakes, and jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
Then, the Kraken absolutely fell to pieces in the first half of the second period. Two early penalties got Seattle on the defensive, and they came apart. Panicked passing, repeated turnovers, not taking the body, scrambling after the puck-carrier and forgetting any ideas of positional play. That was the stretch that led up to the third Vegas goal. It was genuinely painful to watch for a hot minute there.
This is not unusual. The Golden Knights play an aggressive, forechecking style of hockey that is meant to knock their opponents back on their heels. That’s what they did to the Kraken, and it worked — for a while.
At 11:32 of the second period, Ryan Donato became the answer to the trivia question.
Donato was a late pick-up in the free agent signing period, and throughout the pre-season he’s been showing us why the Kraken were smart to take a chance on him. Tonight’s goal was the payoff. Nice hustle, kid. Now pump in 19 more, would ya?
That was followed 1:12 later by a tally from Jared McCann, cutting the Vegas lead to just a goal. The Kraken found their game at that point, and the first 30 minutes became a fleeting memory. They put the pedal down and skated with the Golden Knights for the rest of the game. Morgan Geekie’s goal at 7:58 of the 3rd period completed the comeback.
Then... I guess this was going to happen at some point, but the first game in franchise history?
They Still Got It Wrong
So for you folks who are new to the game, you can’t kick (or bat with your hands, or head-butt) the puck into the net. You need to shoot the puck into the net with your stick. Obviously deflections do happen, and occasionally those deflections go off of skates. The league has a specific phrase that it uses to determine if a goal should be allowed when deflected into the net off a skate. The phrase is “...a distinct kicking motion.” Fellow DJLR staff writer broke the rule down in more detail here.
Now watch this.
Even without slow motion, it’s obvious what happened. Stephenson lifts his skate off the ice, moves it in the direction of the puck, angles his skate blade so as to increase the probability of it deflecting the puck into the empty portion of the net, and it goes in.
So, NHL, I ask you: what part of that description differentiates it from “kicking”?
As you saw, the goal was allowed, final score 4-3 Vegas. The refs blew this, and the video review officials blew it even worse. They had the advantage of time and multiple angles of review, and they still got it wrong.
Welcome to the NHL, where bad officiating and incompetent video judges can determine a game’s outcome. Congratulations, Kraken fans: you are now members of The Club.
Yes, allowing two goals on three shots is worrisome. Yes, there was blown defensive coverage left and right. Yes, there were passes thrown into wide open ice, or even right on to the opponents’ sticks. And yes, oh yes, there were oodles of times when the Seattle puck-carrier ignored one, two, even three open teammates and instead fired a shot straight into a defender’s shin pads. Oyyy...
I’m sure Coach Hakstol and his assistants are going to be reviewing tape on this game and filling legal pads with notes on what to work on when they can finally get a full practice in. But that wasn’t the whole story last night. The Seattle Kraken made a strong showing in their first game of the year, coming back to tie it after falling behind 3-0, and in the process serving notice to the team favored by a mile to win the Pacific Division that they will not be a pushover. In fact, I think we can safely say that the Seattle-Vegas rivalry is officially underway.
There were moments of absolute beauty and brilliance last night. There were glorious passing plays, abundant scoring chances, terrific defensive efforts, some superb goaltending, and three hard-earned goals. And there was a lot of heart, a lot of hustle, and a lot of determination.
If there is a take-away from last night’s game, it is that this team is going to take a while to come together. Most clubs have between half and three quarters of their roster returning from the previous season, so they’re used to each other’s style of play. The Kraken don’t have that advantage, so it’s going to be a week or two before this team starts to gel.
Plainly we would have liked to start the franchise off with a win, and in that regard we should allow ourselves to be a little disappointed. Last night was far from perfect, but it was nowhere close to a disaster. All we could hope for from an opening night game on the road was for our team to show up, play hard, not quit, and keep it close.
In all of those ways, the Kraken delivered.
Next game: Thursday 10/14 against the Predators, in Nashville. Puck drop 5:00pm Pacific.