The Kraken are slowly but surely starting to look like the kind of team they’ve had the potential to be. We could be forgiven for wondering if perhaps the team that we saw beat the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes at home was a fluke after seeing them get shut out by the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, but then they bounced back the next night and broke the Florida Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak.
Now they’ve gone and beat the Buffalo Sabres in (mostly) convincing style.
That statement might not sound nearly as impressive as victories over the Panthers or Hurricanes, especially when this isn’t even the first time the Kraken have beat the Sabres, but when we consider the grand picture of this season, its importance is actually larger than it might seem. After all, the Kraken have dropped contests to struggling teams such as the Canucks, Blackhawks, and Coyotes. It wouldn’t have been entirely out of the realm of possibility for the Kraken to lose to a team such as Buffalo.
This is doubly so on the road. Remember, the Kraken’s first road trip only saw them win 1 out of 5 games. A quick jaunt to Edmonton was then dropped. A two-game span out to two desert teams in Arizona and Vegas saw Seattle lose both contests. Road trips have not been favorable to the Kraken. Yet, with this victory, the Kraken now can’t do any worse on this current road trip than an even win-loss split after their upcoming final game in Detroit. That is huge. This team has never managed to produce a road trip with more than one victory until now.
Sure, it’s easy to say it’s just the Sabres. It’s easy to look at the gauntlet of some of the best teams in the NHL that the Kraken just went through and to see Buffalo as an easy victory. Yet, it’s easy to get worn down on the road, and it’s easy to suddenly play down to competition. History tells us that the Kraken could have easily lost this game, but they didn’t.
The power kill
In most instances, part of the strategy to winning hockey games is to stay out of the penalty box. It makes sense. Giving the other team the power play is usually never a good idea. Even when the opponent’s power play rate is abysmal, there’s no knowing when that one time they’ll actually manage to convert on it will happen.
Tonight, though, the Kraken kicked things off by flipping this rule on its head by developing I’m referring to as a power kill: when being shorthanded still creates offense for you.
The first shorthanded goal in team history was scored tonight by Carson Soucy – and please jot that down for your next trivia game night, friends.
There was still 1:44 left in the Sabres’ power play when Soucy scored, which certainly caught me off guard when the goal was scored. Usually shorthanded blasts don’t come that early, and they tend to be preceded by a clear breakaway attempt. Yet, Kraken games are never truly normal, so of course the first shorthanded goal would be a little out of nowhere.
Yet, that wasn’t enough. Brandon Tanev decided he needed to join the party, too – and the Kraken social team pulled a page out of my book by having fun with photoshopping his headshot for a quick update to the records.
Now, if you had asked me to place a bet on who was going to score the Kraken’s first shorthanded goal, it would’ve been Tanev. Penalty killing has always been one of his strengths, and the number of breakaways we’ve seen him take off on during the penalty kill this year has meant he was overdue for this moment. Yet, Tanev was rewarded this time not because he got off a clean deke on the goalie, but because he stuck with it and didn’t give up on the puck.
It’s the kind of effort we’ve all come to expect from Tanev by now. He puts all his energy into each and every shift. He might not be leading the team in goals scored anymore, but his play is still invaluable to the team. Tanev even notched two helpers on goals by McCann and Appleton, bringing his point total to 3 – the most of anyone on the Kraken tonight.
Yes, he McCann
He’s not just a power play specialist. Jared McCann can be a scoring threat at 5v5 as well.
His first goal of the night once again proved the importance of setting up a strong net-front presence. By hovering around the side of the net throughout the entirety of the play, it allowed him to be open for the rebound attempt after Jamie Oleksiak’s shot.
That strategy in particular is a huge reason that bodies should be around the net. Goalies aren’t always able to freeze the puck, and if that puck is lose in proximity to a skater, it sets up a second scoring opportunity. (This is exactly why freezing the puck has become a stat to track for goaltenders. How good are they at making sure the opposing team doesn’t have that rebound chance?) Yet, if no one is around the puck, then no rebound attempt. It’s that simple. McCann gets this by keeping a good presence at the net.
McCann’s second goal of the night includes beautiful passing courtesy of Morgan Geekie, and it shows that there is chemistry to be found in the new-ish line of Tanev-Geekie-McCann as all three of them earned a point.
McCann’s goal scoring ability even going into this game was on fire, as JFresh Hockey had calculated he has the sixth best rank in goals scored above expectation. Outplaying significantly what is expected of a player is a good sign that things are going well, and McCann continues to prove his strengths here with the Kraken.
Other major firsts
Again, there’s still a shocking amount of Kraken players who haven’t gotten much going on the board yet, but tonight turned the tides around for a few more of them. Mason Appleton scored his very first Kraken goal tonight – and then a second with the empty netter, because just like with the shorthanded tallies and McCann’s goals, why not do things in twos tonight?
Yet, he wasn’t the only one to celebrate a first for the Kraken. Will Borgen – who is finally getting games in while Captain Mark Giordano is out – scored his very first NHL point tonight with an assist on Appleton’s goal shown above. Even more historical is the fact that, according to the Kraken’s PR team, Borgen is only the 33rd NHL player to record his first point against his former team.
As is tradition, the Kraken made sure to secure the puck on this goal and give it to Borgen to mark his first assist.
This was mostly a strong game for the Kraken, though at times it did feel a little worrying toward the end. After all, scoring 7 goals is great, but letting the other team score 4 isn’t exactly ideal either. It could have been played a bit tighter at the end, but also, it’s game three of a four game road trip. Sometimes you just have to say a win’s a win and go from there.
Once more, I’m just primarily left with the impression that the Kraken are starting to play more in stride now. As I said in my last game piece, winning against the Capitals was one thing. The next thing was to build upon it. The Kraken have surely been doing that. Winning four of their past five games is a strong push to show that the early woes this team went through are hopefully a thing of the past.
Are they going to be able to bounce back strongly enough to make the playoffs? I’m not quite sure. It’s a very daunting task as they still sit at 7th in the division. Yet, I think even if it turns out that the Kraken can’t swim up to the surface by season’s end, if they keep on this path of improving their game and gaining more momentum, that’s a successful season in the context of an expansion team’s debut. If this team can keep the motor running and prove that adversity can be overcome, it will lead them far as the seasons go on. This isn’t a team whose Stanley Cup window is about to close. The goal of reaching the top isn’t isolated to a single season. A championship team is forged through moves made throughout multiple seasons. This is just the first chapter for the Kraken, and I think it’s starting to look like a much more positive one than it had before.
Next game: Wednesday 12/2 away against the Detroit Red Wings. Puck drop: 4:30 PT / 7:30 ET