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Morning Swim: Kraken succumb to Flames in 2-1 loss

It was an emotional return to Calgary for Mark Giordano. Most teams that the Kraken have had homecomings to have had their tributes take place during the game, but when it came to the Calgary Flames, they knew they had to do more than that to honor their former captain who had spent 15 seasons with them. They put on their tribute video right at the start, before the anthems were even performed. The standing ovation that the C of Red gave him could have gone on so much longer if the public address announcer hadn’t worked to usher things along.

The storybook outcome for this game would be that Giordano would help captain his new team to rally a victory against his old one, but that turned out not to be in the cards for tonight. Once again, the Kraken found themselves on the losing end of a hockey game.

First period

If we created a Kraken bingo game for you all to play along with, one of the squares would be “goal against in the first five minutes.” Check.

Matthew Tkachuk and the rest of his line have been on a stellar campaign with the Flames this season, but even for all his skill, this is the kind of goal that the Kraken would like back. As the replay shows, no one was covering Tkachuk on this play. The Kraken all came too deep into their own zone. Granted, working to recover the rebound let up by Grubauer was also a goal here, but it was far too easy once Elias Lindholm gained possession of the puck to pass it up to Tkachuk, and the wide open shooting lane made it a cakewalk to shoot it to the back of the net.

It was a goal that could have been easily deflating, because within those early minutes, the Kraken were actually generating some good offensive zone time. This is something that’s been rare for teams facing the Flames to gain lately. Yet, it wasn’t, because the Kraken were able to come back with a beautiful “Calle tally,” as coined by John Forslund.

Calle Järnkrok’s unassisted goal was the result of a bad dump-in retrieval on the Flames’ part. One errant pass backwards was all Järnkrok needed to intercept it and shoot top shelf. He now has 10 goals on the season, and it’s the seventh consecutive season that he has reached that double-digit mark. It was a slow start for him this season, but he’s been kicking it into gear in the back half of this season, and it’s been great to see.

Second period

The second period became much more of a goaltending battle. Neither team scored any goals, but both Grubauer and Jacob Markstrom made some hot saves to still keep it highly entertaining.

Early in the second period, Johnny Gaudreau had a breakaway opportunity that could’ve easily turned disastrous for the Kraken, but Grubauer was on the money and made the save.

When I say it was a goaltending battle, I mean it. I have to give credit where credit is due to impressive goaltending. Markstrom is a likely candidate for the Vezina Trophy this year, and it’s so easy to see why when he makes saves like this one look easy.

Even with the goaltending battle going on, the Flames were the more dominant team offensively. According to Alison Lukan, Seattle only generated 37.84% of shot attempts and 27.91% of shot quality in the second at 5-on-5. Eventually, those kinds of stats are going to bite you in the butt. It’s much easier to win a game when controlling the play.

It did go on to bite them in the butt, but before that happened, a few more theatrics took place.

Third period

At the start of the third period, Ryan Donato and Blake Coleman got tangled up during the first attempt at the opening faceoff, and when the second attempt was good, they immediately dropped the gloves and went at it.

In some ways, I feel like the Kraken go a little under the radar in terms of how feisty they are as a team. Seattle sports chaos is real, and every Kraken game is a reminder of that, but there’s a level of physical chaos that gets overlooked. Yanni Gourde’s reputation for stirring the pot and getting scrums started precedes him, but there’s been a pretty long string of Kraken players who’ve found themselves earning five for fighting. Throughout what is now 18 fights, 10 players have rung the bell for Seattle.

There’s probably an entire article that could be spun off here about fighting’s role in hockey and probing why it’s so beloved in this game while it can also be so dangerous for the players involved, but I’m just going to leave this as an observation for now.

Following this fight, I had assumed nothing was going to beat Markstrom’s second period save, but Grubauer didn’t want to be shown up this game. Even with Larsson’s help, the speed at which he had to lean back to make the stop was absurd. JT Brown on the call was in absolute disbelief that it was actually saved, and I certainly thought as the play unfolded that it was going to be a surefire goal against. Nope. Too bad this wasn’t at Climate Pledge Arena, because I’d love to know how loud the “Gruuuuuuuu” chants would have been.

Yet, as I said, the differential in shot attempt and shot quality was eventually going to work against the Kraken, and lo and behold, it did. Alison Lukan breaks it down well in her caption of Elias Lindholm’s goal.

It’s one of those goals where there was just enough traffic in front due to all the Kraken bodies. It’s almost the exact opposite problem as the Tkachuk goal where there wasn’t enough coverage. Here, there was too much of a cluster, and it screened Grubauer’s ability to properly make the save.

That second goal was all the Flames needed to put a damper on their former captain’s homecoming. The Kraken didn’t have it in them to get a tying score. On the bright side, at least when Grubauer was pulled they didn’t let in an empty net goal at the last possible second this time!

Final thoughts

I think by now we’re all used to the song and dance of the Kraken losing even when they put up a good fight. The last time the Flames were kept to two goals or less was on January 29 against Vancouver (a 1-0 win). The Flames have been good lately at dumping a bunch of goals on opponents, and the Kraken actually made scoring a much harder-to-earn challenge for them.

There are still a couple months to go for the Kraken, and mathematical playoff elimination hasn’t seemed to kick in just yet, but the season has now reached the point where the question needs to be asked, “What are the Kraken even playing for?” If the playoffs no longer feel like a tangible goal, what is supposed to drive them from game to game now?

Looking for moral victories right now might feel foolish, but these might be the important things that drive this team going forward. Looking closely at the things that went right provides something to build upon. The Kraken surely aren’t going to roll with this exact same team next season, but for those that will remain, lessons are going to be learned that they can carry on with them.

Some lessons the Kraken can build upon from this game include the effort needed to reduce how many goals a formidable opponent could score, but they also include figuring out how to generate more offense of their own. Though, I’m also starting to fall squarely into the camp that believes the team needs to fix that problem through trading and drafting. I had hope that more players could step up and have breakout seasons, but that’s obviously not how it’s been going.

It’s another game that hurts to lose, but all that can be done is to turn the page and move on to the next one.

Next game: Monday, February 21 vs Vancouver Canucks @ Rogers Arena. Puck drop 7:00 pm PT/ 10:00 pm ET.

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