MONTREAL – The Seattle Kraken extended their winning streak to six games with a 4-3 victory over the Sabers in Buffalo.
The day after the 4-0 shutout inflicted on the Canadian, at the Bell Center, the Kraken played a very different game on Tuesday in Buffalo: far from sweeping the Sabers as they had done with the Habs dressed in blue Monday night, Yanni Gourde and his Kraken teammates had to work a lot harder against the Sabres. They overcame one-goal setbacks in the first and second periods before scoring twice in the final period, including an empty-netter, to pull away with the win.
Unlike Martin Jones who was rarely tested on Monday (21 saves) to sign his second shutout this season, his 27e in his career, Philipp Grubauer had to make 32 saves, including several difficult ones, to earn only his fourth victory this season.
“We don’t let anyone sweep us away from the back of the hand as it too often happened last year,” defender Vince Dunn told me after the victory at the expense of the Canadian on Monday night.
After scoring his seventh goal and collecting his 22e pass of the season on Monday, the defender acquired as part of the expansion draft was complicit in the 16e rookie Matty Beniers’ goal of the season on Tuesday. A goal that gave the Kraken a 3-2 lead early in the third period.
“Our first season was very difficult. We often lost. We got kicked out of games far too often. But we learned from all those defeats. We have grown as a team. We have developed pride and character. We’ve also developed confidence and that’s evident in the way we play,” Dunn told me after Monday’s game.
Once ahead 3-0 in front of the Canadian, the players of the Kraken did not go to terror in order to lather personal statistics. They played disciplined hockey, they respected the opposition, played a good road game to protect their lead and manage their energy level for the next game in Buffalo. The fifth in a series of seven consecutive on enemy rinks.
With five straight wins since the start of the trip, the Kraken could inflict the Bruins their first setback in regulation time this season at TD Garden. If he doesn’t, he will have the chance to end his trip on a high note with a stopover in Chicago against the Blackhawks.
“We are reaping this year what we sowed last year. The guys who lived the first season arrived with the conviction that they wanted to do better. They conveyed that goal well to the players we added over the summer. It took a little time at the start of the season to find our cohesion. We’ve had some tough times and will probably still have some by the end of the calendar. But we play good hockey. We are involved. We are all working in the same direction. We have found our identity and we are able to win games in many ways,” head coach Dave Haksol explained to me after Monday’s game at the Bell Centre.
Among the best
After a first season of 27 wins and 60 points, a season in which many fans questioned and even mocked the strategies of Ron Francis and members of his staff on the sidelines of an expansion draft very quiet in July 2021, we are no longer laughing at the Kraken.
Halfway through the season, the Kraken (52 points) already has 24 wins (24-12-4).
Not only is he well-established in the playoff race, but he’s also battling for first place in the Pacific Division as he trails just four and two points behind the Las Vegas Golden Knights (56 points) and the Kings. of Los Angeles (54 points) who however played two and four games more than Seattle.
He already claims 14 victories (14-4-2) on the road. One less win than the leaders in this chapter so far this season: the Golden Knights and the Devils who both post 15 victories; in 20 games for Vegas and 18 for New Jersey.
Quite a contrast with the 11 wins in 41 games played on the road last year.
The Kraken also scores with regularity and benefits from a diversified attack.
His average of 3.68 goals per game (147 in 40 games) places him third in the League behind the Buffalo Sabers (3.87) and the Boston Bruins (3.85).
The Kraken have scored four goals and more 21 times in 40 games. He already has 12 games of five or more goals after having contented himself with six such meetings during his entire first season.
Monday in Montreal and again Tuesday at the expense of the Sabers, four different scorers beat the opposing goaltenders, increasing the number of games in which the Kraken could count on such a contribution to 19 games.
By comparison, the Canadian has only seven games in which he was able to count on four different scorers. In fact, the Canadiens have played only 17 games so far this season in which three different players have found the back of the net…
Efficient Expansion Draft
After the Las Vegas Golden Knights made a big splash in the NHL, expectations were high for the Kraken.
They were actually oversized.
Because unlike George McPhee, who orchestrated a sensational expansion draft for the Knights by receiving heaps of gifts to avoid selecting players that other teams really cared about, Ron Francis had to settle for little.
Remember: McPhee was offered Marc-André Fleury by the Penguis; Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault to avoid going elsewhere with the Panthers. The Ducks gave Shea Theodore to protect young people they cared more about. The Blue Jackets gave William Karlsson, the Sabres: Williams Carrier. Not to mention Minnesota, which gave Alex Tuch a bonus to the Knights provided he drafted Eric Haula. All a two for one!
Failing to steal the show, Ron Francis led a draft in the image of the very great player he was: a sensational player, but much more efficient than spectacular. A repechage that gives solid results.
Six of the Kraken’s seven defensemen – Jamie Oleksiak, Vince Dunn, Adam Larsson, Carson Soucy, William Borgen and Cale Fleury – came from the expansion draft.
There are also six attackers: Yanni Gourde, Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Jordan Eberle, Morgan Geekie and Joonas Donskoi – currently injured – and two goalkeepers: Chris Driedger who is injured long term and Joey Daccord who defends the club’s cage -school.
The prudence of Ron Francis and a few transactions – acquisition of Oliver Bjorkstrand, Daniel Sprong in return for Marcus Johansson whom the Kraken sent back to Washington – allowed the Kraken to afford a generous line of credit under the ceiling. A margin that has allowed for the hiring of free agents who play leading roles in the successes of this team or add experience and depth: Andre Burakovsky, Justin Schultz, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Wennberg, Daniel Sprong.
Ron Francis also seems to have realized quite a blow by taking advantage of the presence on waivers of Eeli Tolvanen – the Predators had lost hope in him – to diversify his offense a little more.
In net, Francis and the Kraken appear to have been far too generous with Philipp Grubauer – six-year-old 35.4million – but Martin Jones’ 19 wins – lured to Seattle last summer on a one-year, 2-year deal million dollars – offset this year.
Unlike the Golden Knights who went to the Stanley Cup in their first season – Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals had lifted their first cup at the end of this grand finale – the Kraken have not yet had success in the playoffs.
But with the solid foundations laid by Ron Francis, the Kraken is already a club to be taken seriously. A club that can not only aim for the playoffs this year, but also be successful there.
And with the undeniable qualities that should see Matt Beniers lift the Calder Trophy next summer, part of this team’s future is already assured.
All this in two years!
It’s Ron Francis and the Kraken who can laugh now…