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Morning Swim: Kraken revive their winning ways in a 5-2 victory against the Capitals

Guess we didn’t need Seattle Kraken legend Vitek Vanecek after all

Calle Jarnkrok holds up a salmon plush in salute to the crowd as part of the Three Stars of the Game ceremony Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

The last time I got to feel like this about a Seattle Kraken game was November 4. That was about two and a half weeks ago. Six games of losing really takes its toll, to where I wondered if we were ever going to see the Kraken share their official player of the game item. Going into another matchup with a dominant team in the league didn’t seem to leave much room for hope. I had even joked to a friend that the only reason the Kraken haven’t managed to get shutout yet is because with the way this season is going, it would only make sense that tonight with Vitek Vanecek in net for the Washington Capitals would be how it happens.

When Tom Wilson scored first, on the Capitals’ first shot on goal, I really thought that was the outcome the Kraken were headed for. It was more of the same baffling play we’d been seeing. Lauzon made a strange turnover, and by the time the puck got to Wilson, Grubauer was so deep in the corner of his net that it gave Wilson enough empty space to snipe it in cleanly. It continued to be more of the same as the Kraken kept applying pressure, but nothing seemed to be coming out of it besides some amazing saves by Vanecek that had me going, “We really returned this man after drafting him.”

Then a switch flipped. The power play - which has actually produced goals in the past four games now, believe it or not - came in clutch as Jared McCann scored his 7th goal of the season. Being able to say that the Kraken weren’t trailing after the first period felt good. Confusing, but good.

I think that was the momentum the Kraken needed.

A wide shot of Seattle Kraken players celebrating Larsson’s goal, with a large group of fans captured in the background. Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

When the Kraken followed up the first with very strong second and third periods - finding themselves getting the lead, Grubauer standing on his head, the Kraken being the team to make the other team pull their goalie, actually being the ones to score on an empty netter - it still in some ways felt confusing. Who is this team? This didn’t look like the Kraken team we have all become so accustomed to watching. Yet, in this game, Seattle seemed to finally regain the glimmers of promise that shown throughout the first few weeks of their season, and it was a breath of fresh air.

Some key firsts

During the first period, John Forslund made two separate observations about Kraken players that were still searching for their first goals on the team. The Kraken had played 17 games so far. That’s a long time to go for players to just not score goals - especially when they’re forwards.

It’s been worrying, even with the concerns from the day of the draft that this roster wasn’t constructed with a lot of great finishing talent. However, hockey is also an extremely flukey sport. Puck luck wasn’t a term created just for the fun of it - there are truly times when even the best of players can’t get the goals to go in.

The first two goals for the Kraken were scored by some of the usual suspects in McCann and Jaden Schwartz, but then goal number three came along, and it was the first time Adam Larsson got the puck to the back of the net as a member of the Kraken. It also served as the first time Calle Järnkrok got a point on the Kraken.

It was amazing to not only see goals in lightning quick succession come from the Kraken instead of the opponent (only 43 seconds separated the goals from Schwartz and Larsson), but a goal in transition felt like something that could only happen against Seattle.

That was just the beginning, though, because Järnkrok got a goal of his own next.

Players say it all the time that when things aren’t going well, it can be hard to truly break out of that groove. An often-used phrase is that they grip their stick a little tighter, meaning that there is too much pressure and stress over their performance on their mind. Sometimes all that needs to happen to snap a player out of that mindset is for that first domino to fall.

Could we possibly be seeing more from both of these players? The expectation is going to naturally be higher on Järnkrok to produce points since he’s a forward as opposed to a defenseman like Larsson, but their points in this game could both easily serve as confidence boosters that burst the floodgates wide open. It seems possible that Järnkrok feels motivated enough, considering his postgame comment of being “sick and tired of losing games.” It was about the team as a whole, but that also includes him. He wouldn’t say it if he didn’t feel sick and tired himself. Sometimes that level of spite and anger is a powerful motivator, and maybe that’s what got him finally on the scoresheet tonight.

Revenge game?

Speaking of spite, in case we forgot, Philipp Grubauer won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. Sure, his last team was the Colorado Avalanche, but he didn’t get the start in that game. The next best team to bring his A-game to would be the ones he won a Cup with. He knows well what kind of talent the Capitals bring.

However, sports create all sort of narratives. We weave stories together as the season goes along. A big story throughout this season so far has been that the goaltending has been abysmal. While the Kraken still remain at the bottom of the league in goaltending stats when combining Grubauer’s with those of Chris Driedger and Joey Daccord, when one goalie gets 14 out of 18 starts, that’s where the bulk of your goaltending data is going to lie. For a goaltender who was nominated for the Vezina Trophy last year, that kind of performance cannot sit well on his mind.

Maybe this wasn’t exactly the power of a revenge game, but rather the same kind of power alluded to earlier: one that is sick and tired of losing. I mention narratives because my brain is spinning one up after watching his performance tonight. Grubauer didn’t get the starting nod against his most-current former team, which is understandable because he needed the rest badly. Yet, Driedger goes in, and he’s eventually pulled. Grubauer had to suit up against the Avalanche anyways. When the second half of your goalie tandem also seems to be struggling, what else is left to do but to channel everything you’ve got to elevate your game back to the level it can be?

Philipp Grubauer lifts his glove hand up in salute to the fans as his other hand holds the salmon plush that’s tossed into the crowd as part of the Three Stars of the Game ceremony Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

On top of that, Grubauer seems to have been lifted up by the support Kraken fans have given. Even in the Avalanche game, after going down 7-0, the fans didn’t just meekly cheer the three goals the Kraken eventually scored. They threw their energy into it. He took note of it and mentioned it in tonight’s post-game.

Sometimes you just truly need that extra little motivation.

Final thoughts

The path ahead for the Kraken doesn’t exactly get easier. They have to face the Carolina Hurricanes at home, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning away as one half of a back-to-back, and then the Florida Panthers as the second half in Sunrise, FL. These three teams are major powerhouses in the league.

Not that the Washington Capitals don’t loom large themselves — but also, the Capitals were playing their last match of a four-game west coast road trip, with the added pressure of this being the second night of a back-to-back. While no loss is truly an acceptable loss, these are the ones that are more easily expected to be dropped. It helped Seattle out at least a little that this was the case.

This also isn’t to discredit the dominant performance that the Kraken put on tonight. It’s rather that this team chipped away at my optimism a little. For as much as it was wonderful for them to win - and the cheers at Climate Pledge Arena were definitely those of a fanbase desperate for something to cheer for again - it also means very little in the grand scheme of this season if the Kraken don’t take this performance and find a way to build on it. If they can get this ship set a-sail, suddenly this season becomes a lot more interesting. If they can’t, it starts slipping away to a possible point of no return.

Can the Kraken find a consistent momentum while continuing to face some of the top teams in the league? It’s a huge challenge to ask of them.

Ryan Donato has his arms lifted to go in for a celebration hug with Jared McCann after his power play goal Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

Next game: Wednesday 11/24 at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. Puck drop: 7:00 PT / 10:00 ET.