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Time to hunt in the deep: Kraken vs Panthers PREVIEW

Remember when last year’s Kraken swept the President’s Trophy winners? Good times.

Ryan Donato, on the right hand of the frame, is behind the net and trying to sneak the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky. A Panthers player is sprawled out on the ice also trying to stop the play. Donato is in the Kraken’s home navy jersey and the Panthers’ players are in away white jerseys. Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images

The Need to Knows

The Time: 7 pm PT / 10 pm ET

The Place: Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, WA

Where to Watch: ROOT Sports Northwest or ESPN+ for out-of-market fans

Where to Listen: KJR 93.3 FM

An Opposing Viewpoint: Litter Box Cats

Know Your Enemy

The Florida Panthers haven’t been getting off to the kind of start expected of last season’s President’s Trophy winner. After notching the best regular season record in the entire NHL, they are currently entering the month of December sitting in fifth place in the Atlantic Division. They are only one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens and one point behind the Detroit Red Wings, two teams that I don’t think anyone would have expected to be flanking Florida so closely. It’s still early enough into the season that the Panthers could turn their fortunes around, but at the quarter mark of the season, they are underperforming to their expectations.

This underperformance is something to take note of after how the Panthers decided to swing for the fences with a trade that broke the collective brains of the hockey world. On a random Friday in the middle of summer, the Panthers sent Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in return for Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk being traded away from Calgary was somewhat expected, but what the Panthers gave away to get him was not. Huberdeau especially was a key part of Florida’s core for many years, and was fifth place in voting for the 2022 Hart Trophy for most valuable player. It was a bold risk.

Yet, it’s a risk that has a chance of paying off, especially from the production of the forwards involved. Huberdeau has been struggling to produce to his usual standards in the early start of the Flames’ season with only 13 points in 20 games, while Tkachuk currently sits with 11 goals and 21 assists (the team lead) for a total of 32 points (also the team lead). Yet, in spite of this, the Panthers don’t look like they’re a more formidable team for having made the trade.

That might have more to do with goaltending woes than the decision to shake up the team’s core forwards. Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight as a tandem are looking a little bit like what Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger had for the Kraken last season. Of course, goaltenders also need good defensive support in front of them so they aren’t being tasked with trying to make impossible save after impossible save. For example, against the Oilers on November 28, Spencer Knight had to face down 40 shots on goal. That’s often a sign that the defense weren’t blocking enough or getting the puck out of their own zone. Even with letting 4 goals in, Knight’s save percentage was still at .900 at the end of it all. However, there are some goals against that just make you go, “Okay, I know you could’ve saved that.” Like this play: it was a slow enough shot that Bobrovsky should’ve been able to smother the puck and prevent any rebound — but he didn’t. That came to bite him.

As I write this, the Panthers are actually sitting outside of a playoff spot, but they only have two less points than the top wild card team (the Pittsburgh Penguins). It’s a very close race, and while it’s still a little early for the official playoff chase to begin, the Panthers still need every point they can get.

Game Preview

The Kraken are currently on a 7-game win-streak, and HockeyPuck has the team with the best odds to not only make the playoffs, but to win the Stanley Cup. Frankly, I think their algorithm is being a little too generous — the Kraken aren’t even the best team in the league — but it’s a sign of just how good things have been going for the team lately. They responded after a wild 9-8 victory against the Kings to keep things much more controlled in a 3-2 overtime win against the Capitals. If last season’s team was about finding new ways to lose, this year’s iteration is about finding new ways to win.

At this point, the Kraken look poised to beat just about any team in the league.

Not only that, but in both games against the Panthers last season, the Kraken handed Florida two of their very few losses. That Kraken team wasn’t anywhere close to the outstanding level of how this year’s Kraken have performed, and that Florida team was running on far more cylinders. The Kraken can’t get too cocky about it, but if that’s how the games went last season, then logic proves this should be easy.

Hockey unfortunately has a funny way of defying logic, though.

Look for any of Matty Beniers, Jared McCann, André Burakovsky, or Jordan Eberle to get on the scoresheet, because all four of them have been major producers for the Kraken lately. Beniers has been making his case for the Calder Trophy as the best rookie this year with his performance against the Capitals with some record-setting stats, courtesy of the NHL’s PR team.

The main thing to ask from the Kraken this time around is no more overtime. Some of us unfortunately live on the east coast and have some of their earliest work shifts of the week on Sundays...or that may just be me.