Learn to Fly: Seattle Kraken vs Philadelphia Flyers preview

The Seattle Kraken are…playing a hockey game? Sounds fake.

Yet, after four straight postponements (Toronto, Arizona, Calgary, and Vancouver are the opponents we should have seen), the NHL has decided that this game against the Philadelphia Flyers is perfectly fine to continue on with. You can either catch the 7 pm PT puck drop in person at Climate Pledge Arena or on ROOT Sports NW (or ESPN+ for all you fellow out-of-market fans). If you’re not so familiar with our opponent, check out our Landlubber’s Guide.

Now, should this game be happening? I’m not entirely sure. After all, if it’s too dangerous for the women’s world junior championships to be playing, then why is men’s hockey still going on? Oh, right, because we’ve somehow decided that men’s hockey is too lucrative financially to take a loss on it. The money to be made from pushing forward the NHL season outweighs the fact that a whole new list of players has been added onto COVID-19 protocols after this mini pause of sorts. I’m doubtful that the league actually has these outbreaks under control yet, but the season must go on wherever it can.

As long as we have a game to cover, though, cover it we will. Even as I say that it’s risky, I know I’m going to still tune in and watch. It is what it is. The games will go on unless pushed to a breaking point (such as an extremely depleted roster or capacity restrictions). Plus, eventually this wave should subside. It’s just a question of whether it’s still too soon to return. Can’t exactly find out, though, without playing. So here we are.

So who’s playing anyways?

In all of the confusion between COVID-19 protocols and injury announcements, it’s hard enough to keep track of our own roster let alone other teams’. That’s why we’re here to help you out. Dan created a helpful guide to what the Kraken’s lineup looks like right now (and let us all knock on wood that this doesn’t change on us again), so that’s covered.

As for the Flyers, here’s what we know. At Tuesday’s practice, this is what the Flyers’ lineup looked like:

Presumably, this is what the Kraken are going to be facing, and let me tell you, this is a thinned out Flyers squad. There’s no Sean Couturier, no Scott Laughton, and no Carter Hart. (There’s also no Ryan Ellis or Derick Brassard, but they’ve also been rehabbing from injury and likely wouldn’t have played even if COVID free.)

This is a big deal. Couturier hasn’t been having his greatest season so far, but he didn’t luck his way into winning the Selke Trophy in 2020. He is one of the better defensive centers in the league and plays a lot of minutes for the Flyers. Laughton is their Swiss Army Knife who does so many little things right. Hart’s their starting goalie and has been playing lights out this season.

The Kraken have two defensive regulars on Covid protocol, two forwards on protocol, and have lost Brandon Tanev for the entire season, but they’re going up against a squad that is also seeing major talent depleted. The Flyers are making due. Players like Gerry Mayhew and Max Willman are usually playing for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and any time that Claude Giroux is forced to move to center means the team is desperate. Giroux certainly knows how to play center, because that was his position for many seasons, but as his game has evolved over the years, he now contributes more to his team as a left winger.

Now, just like the Kraken are lucky enough to see defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Carson Soucy back from protocol, the Flyers have their break in being able to have centers Kevin Hayes and Morgan Frost return. It’s great to see players back and healthy, but I still have concerns about the ease of their returns. Even for those cases that were asymptomatic, the necessary isolation means there’s still been a pause in the usual training and practice these players go through. It’s not easy to suddenly jump back in. It might have an effect on how the game goes.

What happened last time?

The last time these two teams met, the Kraken were still on their opening five-game road trip. Climate Pledge Arena still had yet to officially open to the world.

The Flyers also decided the best way to welcome the Kraken to the NHL was to create a very chaotic game — which is befitting the city of Philadelphia, let’s be real.

By 14:36 in the first period, the Flyers already had a 3-0 lead, and it made me wonder if it was actually worth all the money I was spending to for an overnight trip down to Philly. (It’s probably the only time I’m seeing the Kraken in person this season, so yes, it was worth it.)

In the end, Giroux, Konecny, Brassard, Ellis, Braun (who never scores goals, so that felt insulting), and Farabee all got on the board for the Flyers. It was a bit of a bloodbath, and it was the first time Philipp Grubauer got pulled. He let in the first 5 goals, while Chris Driedger was unable to stop Farabee’s tally in the third.

At least Carson Soucy’s first goal as a Kraken during the second period allowed me to shout “It’s not a shutout!” from the nosebleeds of the Wells Fargo Center.

Beyond that, the only thing worth cheering for throughout the night was watching Jamie Oleksiak and Nathan Bastian (who’s now back with the Devils) get into fights. In fact, there were a whopping 86 penalty minutes dished out between both teams. For being the Kraken’s first blowout loss, at least it wasn’t a boring game by any means.

What’s changed?

In between all this time, things have not been going well for the Flyers. The Kraken have definitely had their fair share of struggles, but you know what the Kraken haven’t had? A ten-game losing streak. They also haven’t seen their head coach and one assistant coach fired. Alain Vigneault got the boot somewhat surprisingly, considering that general manager Chuck Fletcher was at first hesitant to fire anyone. Yet, the losing streak forced his hand, and now Mike Yeo has taken over head coaching duties.

The October matchup may have gone the way it did just because of the circumstances surrounding it. It was only the Flyers’ second game of the season, and they were going up against an expansion team that was on game 4 of 5 of a road trip that spanned multiple time zones. As much as I had maybe hoped for a more even matchup, in retrospect, the lopsided loss made sense.

Under Yeo, the Flyers have started to look better, stringing together a five-game winning streak before the Christmas break / COVID-19 pause (what a totally normal combo of words). Yet, with having not played since December 18, it’s hard to say whether the Flyers will still carry the same momentum.

On paper, it’s the league’s 24th ranked team (the Flyers) against the 28th (the Kraken). Neither team is sitting in a playoff spot, though the Flyers have much better odds at closing that gap than the Kraken do. Neither team, of course, is going to want to go down without a fight (as we literally saw before). The Flyers want to prove they’re a better team now after the coaching change. The Kraken want to continue to solidify their identity and show they can be a team with winning ways.

If nothing else, it should at least be entertaining.