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Recap: The Kraken topple the Oilers 4-3 in Pacific Division upset

Yes, you’re absolutely reading this correctly. The Seattle Kraken beat the Edmonton Oilers. I understand if you’re feeling confused about this. After all, Captain Mark Giordano is still out due to COVID-19 protocols. Leading goal scorer Jordan Eberle is injured, as well as top point-producer Jaden Schwartz. The Oilers are the second best team in the Pacific Division, and the Kraken are the second worst. Sure, the Oilers are missing a lot of defensemen right now, but defense has never been what the Oilers are about. They’re a team that wins games because their offensive power is so strong, it cannot be stopped.

Even with home-ice advantage, this was exactly the kind of game on paper that the Kraken would be expected to lose.

Sometimes, though, being without key players can be a strong motivator in and of itself. Those players can never truly be replaced, but everyone has to step up and try to find a higher gear to shift into in an attempt to collectively make up for what has been lost. The Kraken seem to be finding this next-man-up mentality in how they played against the Edmonton Oilers. It wasn’t a perfect game – and again, in the circumstances, that’s to be expected – but it was still a strong effort from the Kraken and a well-deserved win. Notably, the Kraken led in shots, scoring chances, and high danger scoring chances throughout the night according to Natural Stat Trick. This wasn’t the kind of game where the team lucked themselves into it. Instead, this was the kind of game that shows that the Kraken are continuing to fully build themselves up and actually play with skill and confidence.

It’s about the narratives

Sometimes things happen in hockey that would sound too forced or contrived if they were part of a fictional story. That was how we could think of Adam Larsson’s night. Here he was, playing against his former team, and he took a penalty. Said penalty allowed his old team to score a power play goal and tie up the game. Yet, Larsson ended up having the last laugh as he scored the next goal to put the Kraken in the lead, and ultimately came out victorious.

There’s a lot of fun this season talking about “revenge games”: games where a player is going up against their former team. It makes sense to think of it as revenge because in most cases, a player wound up on the Kraken because he was left exposed in the expansion draft. Hockey’s a business, and surely most players understand that, but in the grand scheme of playing with narrative, it becomes easy to fill in the gaps and wonder how much being exposed sits poorly with a player.

Of course, not every player’s revenge game is successful. If it were, the Kraken would have a lot more wins. Spite can be a powerful motivator, but even if Seattle players feel bitter against their old organizations for letting them go, it doesn’t solely win hockey games. Yet, for Adam Larsson tonight, it feels like this is the story. It feels like a player telling his old team he doesn’t need them anymore. It’s more fun when games happen to take on such a convenient narrative arc like that.

Man in the box

For all the things that the Kraken did well in this game, the one disappointment was how often the team let themselves enter the penalty box. One of the primary factors for why the Oilers are so dominant in the Pacific Division and the league as a whole is because of the success of their power play – the best in the league. Unlike at 5v5, where both of them play center, the Oilers are able to unleash both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the ice at the same time. The term “two-headed monster” is usually used to describe the Penguins’ own one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but at this point in time, it’s probably a more apt term for what McDavid and Draisaitl are for the Oilers. So, when Draisaitl scored 30 seconds into the Larsson penalty, it really didn’t feel surprising.

Yet, it also didn’t feel entirely surprising that the Kraken took these penalties. Going into tonight’s game, Seattle had the 4th most penalty minutes taken of any team with 238. Only the Wild (239), Predators (247), and Coyotes (294) have more. Now, a lot of this is the fact that the Kraken find themselves getting a lot of five-minute majors for fighting (according to Hockey Fights, the Kraken are tied with the Predators for second place with 10), but that only accounts for 50 penalty minutes. Even if you subtracted all those, there are still teams with less than 183 penalty minutes this season.

Now, hockey is a chaotic game. That’s not to mention the fact that not every game is called fairly. In fact, there’s been controversy this season regarding this exact Oilers team about penalties not being called enough against their opponents all because, well, this power play is so dominant. Even though the game deserves to be called fairly, one could imagine just how much more insane this team would be if on the man advantage more than it already is. On the flip side, sometimes referees call penalties on things that probably shouldn’t be penalties – such as tonight against Vince Dunn.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible for some teams to be less disciplined than others. The high amount of fighting majors for the Kraken lends enough credence to this theory for them. The Kraken sit at 19th place on the penalty kill, so while they’re not stingy on it, they’re also not abysmal at it either. Yet, the more penalties taken, the stronger the likelihood becomes that this next one is the one they fail to kill. Additionally, taking penalties as late in a game as the Kraken did – only 1:31 left to play – is the kind of event where if they had failed to kill it off, it would have been a crushing blow. Even if Seattle managed to rally back in overtime, it would still feel like a letdown, especially when it means giving an extra standings point to a division rival. Those are the times where taking penalties is foolish.

An issue that the Kraken might need to fix as they go along is discipline. Again, it’s not entirely easy, because every team takes penalties at some point, but cutting down on them as best as possible is never a bad idea.

Other highlights

Yanni Gourde scoring only 49 seconds into the game is an electric way to kick off a homestand. It’s also a great reminder that if you think “Oh, surely it’ll be fine if I miss a couple of minutes at the start,” you could be very, very wrong. Hockey is too fast-paced of a game.

Colin Blackwell joined the backhanded parade on a beautiful play off a turnover, and in the process, Kole Lind got his first NHL point. You truly love to see it.

Off Alex Wennberg’s goal, Jamie Oleksiak now has points in four straight games – his longest point streak of his career. It’s great to see a much wider variety of point contributors, too. Again, part of it is what I discussed at the beginning. Without a team’s best players, everyone needs to chip in. Yet, this is a development that shouldn’t just be left to disappear once everyone’s back and healthy. Part of why the Kraken have floundered throughout the early parts of the season come down to not getting everyone involved. A more equal distribution of goal scoring and assist making will only help the Kraken moving forward.

Next game: Monday, December 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins at home. Puck drop: 7 pm PT / 10 pm PT