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Morning Swim: Matty Beniers’ Kraken debut ends in 5-3 loss to Flames

There were a few storylines that were looming going into this game. It was the final matchup against the Calgary Flames of the season, and it would be nice to see the Kraken finally beat them. It would also be the first time Calle Järnkrok would play against the Kraken since he was traded, leading to a potential for some revenge game action against Seattle for a change.

Most importantly of all, though, was that this game would mark the NHL debut of Matty Beniers. Drafted number two overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Beniers was the very first ever draft pick for the Seattle Kraken, and from that day, fans have been eager to see what he could bring to the team. After losing to the eventual NCAA Championship winning Denver team in the Frozen Four, Beniers had a choice to make. Would he continue playing for the University of Michigan, or would he sign his first contract and go pro? It took a few days of decision making, but he decided to take the next leap in his playing career and sign on with the Kraken.

This game had lots of anticipation building up around it, but ultimately, it would just be marked as yet another loss on the season.

Period 1

It didn’t take long for Beniers to make a difference in his NHL debut. With a little over 14 minutes into the period, Beniers combined with Ryan Donato for a goal with a beautiful seam pass.

While Dave Hakstol has made comments about not wanting to overload Beniers in his first game, when they did have him out on the ice, it was in theory as a first-liner alongside Donato and Jordan Eberle. This might seem like putting a lot of pressure on the 19 year old, but the move actually works to give Beniers the chance to prove himself. Playing alongside a veteran such as Eberle and a player he’s familiar with in Donato (they train together in Boston during the summers) provides Beniers some good role models as he acclimates to the NHL. It seems to have worked considering he has his first NHL point already.

This was also the fifteenth goal of the season for Donato, which gives him a new career high. He’s been having a quietly good year for himself with the fourth most goals on the Kraken. There was also a stat ROOT Sports displayed during Donato’s first intermission interview that the Kraken are 7-3-2 when he scores a goal.

Donato’s far from the only Kraken player to reach new career highs this season. Alison Lukan compiled a quick list:

It’s great to see so many Kraken players being able to take additional leaps in their games. If this kind of progression continues for them, it could really help Seattle elevate themselves next season.

Though if there’s a habit the Kraken could really learn to break next season, it’s in letting response goals happen. It was about two and a half minutes after Donato’s goal that Matthew Tkachuk ended up tying the game up. At first it looked like it was Noah Hanifin’s goal, but upon closer look, Tkachuk got the deflection on it.

The period ended with a 1-1 tie, but it was honestly a good showing for the Kraken throughout. They played well and put up a strong fight against a team they had just lost to only a few days prior.

Period 2

Only three minutes into the period, and Victor Rask regained the lead with his second goal as a Kraken. Yanni Gourde had a smart play leading up to this goal as well, shooting the puck on net, watching where the rebound bounced off to, and skating around behind the net in order to open himself up to receive a pass that could be immediately launched to a net-front presence. Rask was perfectly in position for Gourde’s pass, and the puck was screened well to allow the shot to go unblocked and right into the net.

Adam Larsson went to the penalty box for high sticking, and the Kraken had to come up huge on the penalty kill. Chris Driedger was especially important to this successful kill as he acted like a brick wall in front of the net. It wasn’t a power kill in the sense that the Kraken had forward offensive momentum during it, but their successful ability to shut the Flames down lead to the tides turning as soon as Larsson came out of the box. He redeemed himself by scoring a goal as the Kraken broke out down the ice.

It was a really strong period from the Kraken, as they did a good job of being able to subdue one of the stronger offensive teams in the league.

Period 3

Interestingly to start this period, the Flames replaced their goaltender. Jacob Markstrom was pulled from his net and Dan Vladar was playing instead. After all, Markstrom had only let in three goals. It wasn’t like he was performing poorly at all. However, sometimes a coach will make the decision to switch goalies as a way of sending a message to the rest of the team. This may have been the case with Darryl Sutter and the Flames tonight. Instead of being indicative of Markstrom having a bad game, it was a way to almost guilt the Flames into playing better.

After a flurry of penalties being called on both sides, the Flames wound up with a power play opportunity, and Tkachuk scored his second goal of the game. Almost more importantly for this goal was that Johnny Gaudreau reached the 100 point mark, the first time he’s reached it in his career. He’s been having an outstanding season for the Flames this year, and he’s a player I’m personally really fond of. Gaudreau is a fun, skilled player that proves that size doesn’t matter as much as some people think it does in the league — and him being from southern New Jersey is a bit of pride for those of us Philadelphia-area folks. I just wish this could’ve happened in any other game.

When it rains, it pours, and from there, the Kraken fell with multiple goals. Only about two minutes after the Tkachuk goal, Andre Mangiapane scored. Later on the power play came a goal that was actually from Hanifin this time. Then, to top it all off, Tkachuk got the hat trick by scoring on the empty net. Calgary really got all the good narratives in this game.

It was such a disheartening, deflating third period. After playing so well for the first two, it felt like the Kraken might have a chance at avoiding being swept in the season series against the Flames. It just all seemed to fall apart out of nowhere instead.

At least the one consolation about losing a game in this fashion is that, really, losing is almost the preferred outcome. While the lottery means no team is guaranteed the number one pick in this year’s draft, the worst team in the league will get a top three pick no matter what.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to swallow a loss. Plus, there’s a small level of comfort that comes with an eliminated team starting to put things together a little more towards the end of the season. It provides hope that next year will be different. Right now, Kraken fans need a reason to believe that things aren’t always going to be so dire.

Watching Beniers play tonight was at least a start in the right direction. For his first NHL game, he played well alongside Eberle and Donato. If there were any jitters going into tonight’s game, he didn’t really show them. Then again, not only did he and the University of Michigan men’s hockey team make play through to the Frozen Four, he’s already played on an Olympic hockey stage — one of the few upsides to the NHL once again being unable to send its players to the Olympics. It’s been a whirlwind year for Beniers, and I’m sure these factors are only going to help him as he continues to get more NHL games under his belt.

Next game: Saturday, April 16 versus the New Jersey Devils at Climate Pledge Arena. Puck drop 7:00 pm PT / 10:00 pm ET

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