We’re 24 hours away from discovering how much momentum is real when it comes to a comeback the Seattle Kraken pulled off Saturday night.
They didn’t win the game. But down 4-1 and previously at 0-11 when trailing after two periods, they found enough time, patience, and scoring opportunities to rip off three unanswered goals, courtesy Jaden Schwartz, Morgan Geekie, and Vince Dunn to salvage a standings point, ultimately losing 5-4 in overtime to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Head coach Dave Hakstol, walking the Kraken through a spirited Monday practice at Kraken Community Iceplex before airline travel to start a brief two-game trip in California, said he’s not a believer in “carry-over” momentum.
But, a building block has been laid down in the name of resiliency.
“That’s not a very good feeling when you walk into that dressing room after the second period," said Hakstol. "The group had a mindset coming out, to go out and work hard together, and work to dig out of a hole.”
“We started the period well, the power play lit the fuse for us and gave a real spark and gave us enough to continue pushing from there and tie it up.”
The Kraken continue to push with no stark surprises in what they showed with practice line combos and defensive pairs, still forging ahead without Yanni Gourde, Colin Blackwell, Riley Sheahan, and assistant coach Jay Leach in COVID-19 protocol.
Alexander True’s Saturday began with a 6:00 a.m. ET flight, cross-country, to take on a challenge that would include him in a very special moment: play in his first regular season game with the Kraken, on ice just over 20 miles from where he forged a decorated WHL career with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
It’s a hard pressed chore to find a bigger moment in his hockey life than his game six overtime rebound in Regina, helping the Thunderbirds capture the WHL championship in 2016-17. But stepping onto the ice at Climate Pledge Arena, before fans who’ve done this drill before with the chant “True” each puck touch like in Kent, was an extraordinary moment.
“It was very special,” said True. “Ever since I heard about the team coming to Seattle I thought it would be awesome to come back here. It was a special place – my first away from home. Definitely cool playing here.”
True’s quest is quite different and lengthier than call-ups in San Jose, where he developed as a Sharks draft pick with the Barracuda – leading them in scoring his second AHL season – then earned a recall to the NHL club for 19 games. Both teams call SAP Center “home” – meaning all True had to do was walk into the same building, but only into a different room.
“Obviously it’s a lot easier in San Jose just walking through a different door,” said True, cracking a small smile. “So this time around, it was a bit of an adjustment in the time change and travel, day of. Just got to get used to it.”
With travel and much-needed rest settling in, True emerged from the iconic neon lit tunnel of Climate Pledge Arena dressed in a deep blue Kraken jersey for the first time against the Blue Jackets. With a rangy and heavy 6-foot-6 frame, he logged 13 shifts and over 11 minutes of ice time and was involved with several front-of-the-net battles that nearly resulted in his first NHL goal.
“Physically there are challenges there,” said Hakstol on True’s Saturday of adventure. “He was excited to play. I thought he went out with really good detail, a presence on the ice, and he was happy with the job he did for us.”
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
Monday’s practice featured drills that kept three Kraken forwards together from their assignment on Saturday night, with one thing in common:
Ryan Donato, True, and Joonas Donskoi are all former members of the San Jose Sharks.
Guess who’s up next on the schedule Tuesday night?
“That’s going to be a special one, for sure,” said True, smiling at the end of his Zoom session. “Lot of guys I spent a lot of time with, in my four seasons in San Jose. Probably going to be a lot of things going through my head, leading up to the game. But it’ll be nice to be back there, see those faces. Hopefully beat them though.”
True was left exposed by the Sharks for last summer’s expansion draft. Donato and Donskoi come to the Kraken under different circumstances, but still with a large piece of San Jose tied to their resumés:
Donato spent 50 games in San Jose last season before departing via free agency. Donskoi, who scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, battled in Sharks teal for four NHL seasons before moving onto the Colorado Avalanche, where he skated the last two seasons.
Could they stick for Tuesday night? True has his compliments on the combination.
“Both of those players are great players and make the game a lot easier for me,” said True. “I’m impressed how well they play the game, and they’re always in good spots. So it helps a lot between those two.”
DRIEDGER BACK TO THE DUO
With goaltender Chris Driedger activated off injured reserve and Joey Daccord returned to Charlotte, Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer and Driedger are once left on the Kraken roster again as a duo where they hope health is on their side.
Grubauer has remained healthy all year but shouldered 22 of 27 games, a total of 81 percent of the season’s workload. Driedger, trying to put ailments behind him that have accounted for ten games missed due to injury, showed signs of turning the corner with a first star victory at Florida, against his former team, with a 33-save effort. The next night, he was good enough for another win, with 32 saves in a 7-4 victory at Buffalo.
But, it was back to the I.R. for Driedger after that, sidelined with a lower body injury.
All clear now.
“You just have to get your confidence in practice and create little battles in practice with the guys,” said Driedger. “Last stretch when we won two straight – great for the confidence. Felt comfortable.”
Into the third month of the season and trying to build on opportunities only allowing for five games, Driedger has seen the value of battles in practice.
“With me I want to stop every puck in practice,” said Driedger. “Some days you’ll feel great and have a ton of energy. Other days, you don’t have the energy but you have to get something out of practice. That’s where I feel the competition comes in, certain guys you compete with, you bear down on those guys and make those saves.”
“I find when I challenge myself on certain shooters and drills, that feels like a game situation, I can get a lot out of it. If you pick your spots, and compete, you find that goes a long way.”
The Kraken, who will play in 14 “back-to-back” game sets this season, will have two more this week with the Sharks and Ducks on Tuesday and Wednesday, then back home for the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and Sunday. With respects to the workload ahead, Hakstol said with Driedger’s recovery for game action, “it’s a matter of getting healthy” with communication between Driedger and the Kraken medical staff monitored by Hakstol.
“Collectively we’ll choose a time for his first start coming off this injury,” said Hakstol.
THE KRAKEN IN PRACTICE: DEC. 13