The trade deadline has come and gone, and the Kraken looked different going into tonight’s game. After all, the team traded away Calle Järnkrok, Mark Giordano, Colin Blackwell, Jérémy Lauzon, Mason Appleton, and Marcus Johansson. That’s a lot of players to ship out over a short period of time, and that’s also not even getting into how one of them was the Kraken’s first captain. The identity of this team was shaken.
The Kraken also looked different throughout tonight’s game. This turned out to be one of those rare games where the team had dominated the play and managed to overcome whatever obstacles were placed in front of them to come out for the win. It wasn’t a perfect 60 minutes of hockey, but for a team like the Kraken, just getting that win is what really matters.
It’s the part of the season where people might begin to say the Kraken “have nothing to play for.” What is meant by that is that in the NHL, the ultimate goal is to out there and win the Stanley Cup. When a team’s regular season is coming to a close and it’s clear that they aren’t going to make the playoffs, then those final games start to feel like they’re pointless.
Others might argue that the Kraken still have a very important thing to play for: improving odds for the number one overall pick. With the way the draft lottery works, finishing out the season as the worst team in the league doesn’t actually guarantee picking first. It just makes it more likely that when Gary Bettman reads off the results of the ping pong balls that the worst team’s name is picked.
I would argue, however, that because the chances of picking first aren’t even guaranteed by losing every single remaining game, the Kraken have an even better thing to play for during the end of the season. This is where those players that remain have a chance to prove themselves. This is where they can show a true test of character.
After all, it might be easy to roll over and let the remaining opponents steamroll these players. Tonight’s matchup against the Arizona Coyotes was a perfect one to lose if this team wanted to truly embrace the tank, since both teams came into this game with 44 standings points — a three-way tie with the Canadiens for least points in the league.
Instead, this Kraken team put up a spirited game.
It’s a strong message to send back to Francis in the wake of being the players that were deemed worth sticking around for the rest of the season.
New look lines
There was honestly no escaping this, because what else are the Kraken supposed to do when they trade away what felt like half the team? New forward lines and defensive pairs had to be shuffled around.
The starting lineup was such:
Schwartz — Wennberg — Eberle
Donato — Gourde — Kuhlman
McCann — Geekie — Lind
Sprong — Sheahan — Donskoi
Dunn — Larsson
Soucy — Oleksiak
Fleury — Borgen
Some immediate things stood out to me. First was to see that Vince Dunn would be the defenseman to slot up into what used to be Mark Giordano’s spot. I said that if there was a particular defenseman I wanted the Kraken to build around, it would be Dunn, so it’s nice to see that the team is giving him this chance to step up and prove what he’s capable of.
Also on defense, Haydn Fleury and Will Borgen are actually getting ice time! I’m especially keen on this development for Fleury’s sake, because I feel like he’s another defenseman that can bring a lot to the table. He just hasn’t been properly utilized this season by languishing as a healthy scratch.
Thirdly, I’m baffled by the usage of Jared McCann on the third line. I understand why the reactivation of Jaden Schwartz has brought him to a line with Alex Wennberg and Jordan Eberle, because they’re a line that really got clicking before Schwartz’s injury, but a third line demotion seems a little unfortunate. I guess those are just the kinks you have to work out when, again, you traded away what felt like half the team.
A major part of the challenge in tonight’s game was adjusting to all of these changes. It’s not just the 5-on-5 lineup that’s different, but even the special teams have had to figure out what to do without certain players on the ice. Case in point, this breakaway attempt while the Kraken were on the penalty kill that was stifled because, oops, Colin Blackwell’s not up the rush like he usually is. He’s in Toronto now, sorry.
Even though the Kraken needed to make these moves, the one immediate downside to it all is that it does mess with what team chemistry is there. For the Kraken to have earned the win tonight speaks volumes for their ability to adapt to the situation at hand. It’s another one of those shining moments where it’s clear to see that the Kraken could be so much better than they have been given some time.
Response goals galore
Now, I don’t know about you all reading this, but I wasn’t shocked one bit when the Coyotes scored first, courtesy of a power play goal from Nick Schmaltz. That’s his third goal against the Kraken all season, so he just happens to have their number. The main thing that could be categorized as shocking about this goal is that it took place at 8:11 into the second period instead of, say, the first five minutes of the game.
What was surprising, though, was to see Carson Soucy get a response goal to tie the game up only 18 seconds later. The Kraken have gotten a little better at doing this themselves, but it still feels like it’s going against the norm when it happens.
Soucy ripped that shot, too. That was the kind of goal that says, “I’m not about to see us drop to the absolute bottom of the league standings, nope.”
Less surprising, though, was that the Coyotes got a response goal of their own as Nick Ritchie reclaimed the lead 44 seconds after Soucy’s goal. That feels more like a Kraken game: doing something really good and then immediately blowing it.
Once again, there is truly no such thing as a normal Kraken game. Even when things happen that are predictable, they still happen in so many new combinations that it keeps everyone on their toes.
Spring, sprang, Sprong
When it turned out the Kraken were actually going to get a player back in the Marcus Johansson trade, I was pleasantly surprised. The Capitals had their reasons for being so willing to part with Daniel Sprong. Sprong was often a healthy scratch recently, and when a player’s just not fitting into what a team needs, it makes sense to part with them to give them a chance to actually play somewhere. (Also, maybe it’s a nice favor for us immediately returning Vitek Vanecek to them.)
However, seeing some of the initial responses from stat experts about what kind of player the Kraken were acquiring, I went from pleasantly surprised to legitimately happy.
This isn’t a trade that shifts the tides so heavily that the Kraken suddenly turn into a juggernaut until the end of the season. Which makes sense, sellers don’t get to acquire players like that. However, it indicates that Ron Francis and company see where they need to start getting better. Even if it’s in the form of a bottom-six forward, hey, it’s something!
Sprong made his offensive skill known in the second period. Sprong rockets that shot absolutely perfectly to the top corner, and it’s beautiful to see.
Utilizing a player with high offensive upside on the power play is definitely a smart move, and it’s one that paid off for the Kraken tonight. It’s just one game with the team, of course, but if we see more of this kind of goal scoring from him for the remainder of the season, this is going to be a pretty nice pick up for the team.
The Souce is loose
I already recapped Soucy’s first goal above, but he wasn’t done scoring after all that chaos. No, instead he went and earned himself a second goal in that second period.
Soucy now has 9 goals on the season. I know he’s scored a couple times, but that felt a little fake to realize it’s been that many times. Hey, good for him, though.
While he came just short of the hat trick, he provided strong defensive play as well, including one instance where he was Grubauer’s perfect backup and helped him play goaltender in clearing the puck away from the goal line.
The only people who might be more upset than the fans that he didn’t get the hat trick would be his teammates, who were overheard pumping him up before the third period to score it.
To top it all off, the Kraken scored their fourth goal of the night courtesy of Morgan Geekie. It was one of those beautiful tick-tack-toe goals with Kole Lind and Jared McCann providing the assists. Suddenly my question about why McCann was on the third line was answered a little more clearly. Maybe there’s chemistry between these players.
This was Geekie’s fifth goal of the season, and his first in nearly a month, which was against the Sharks on February 27. It’s good to see Geekie getting back into it, because he’s still one of those players that given a little more time and effort could really blossom.
With that, the Kraken were able to solidify the comeback and complete the win. Again, this was a hard-fought game from Seattle, and it’s one I hope the team can figure out how to build upon. Of course, if you’re rooting for the tank, you might not share this sentiment with me, but hey, I guess I’m all about hoping to see some growth.
Next game: Seattle Kraken vs LA Kings at Crypto.com Arena. Puck drop, 7:30 pm PT / 10:30 pm ET