One test passed, and onto another.
That’s the task at hand these days for the Seattle Kraken, vocal about building winning habits through a turbulent expansion season on ice but now owners of a three-game win streak, taking aim at the Minnesota Wild tonight at 5pm PT (93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network).
Philipp Grubauer will start in net, who helped lock up the Colorado Avalanche in a first star, 25-save victory on Wednesday, and now will content with a Minnesota team that has won three games in a row, fresh off a 6-3 home victory last night against the Vancouver Canucks.
What the Kraken have at their disposal is an emerging line of Yanni Gourde in the middle, Jared McCann on the left wing, and Karson Kuhlman on the right wing, a trio who held the Nathan MacKinnon trio in check for the first 56 minutes of the game, until they connected on a goal by Artturi Lehkonen that ultimately was futile in a 3-2 Kraken win.
“They’ve been really good,” said Hakstol of the Gourde trio. “They’ve drawn some pretty tough assignments, and you’re going to lose some of those battles. But on the majority of those nights, they’ve done a great job, they’ve spent some time of the offensive zone, provided a little bit of offense, and have done that over the last three games against some pretty tough competition.”
Gourde said a defensive key is a five-man collective effort.
“We’re defending as a unit of five,” said Gourde. “Anytime you have star players or great lines, you’ve got to defend as a unit of five. Everybody has to work hard, everybody has to reload, everybody has to do things to be successful. That’s the way we’ve been playing lately.”
The Kraken will face Minnesota for the first time since Nov. 13, and a lot has changed since they dropped a 4-2 defeat in Seattle on the back of a Rem Pitlick hat trick. For starters, Pitlick isn’t even with the Wild anymore, claimed off waivers by the Montreal Canadiens in January. Marc-Andre Fleury, who will start tonight, was a trade deadline pickup from the Chicago Blackhawks on Mar. 21.
Five players dressing for the Kraken that night are also gone, dealt away at or near the trade deadline: Mark Giordano, Calle Jarnkrok, Colin Blackwell, Jeremy Lauzon and Marcus Johansson. Two suiting up that night are now sidelined with injuries: Brandon Tanev, and Jaden Schwartz.
Yet, since that last matchup, the Kraken believe from the last five months, confident strides are being taken toward a consistent, winning environment.
“We’re pretty confident group right now,” said Gourde.
Motivation will be front and center as well. Three former members of the Wild – Victor Rask, Carson Soucy, and Ryan Donato – return to Xcel Energy Center tonight while Karson Kuhlman (Minnesota-Duluth alum) and Will Borgen (St. Cloud State) return to the home state of their college playing days.
“We all know it means a lot to a few of our teammates,” said Gourde. “We’re going to go out and do our best for them.”
Minnesota, tied for second place in the Central Division with St. Louis at 49-21-7, is led by Kirill Kaprizov’s 44 goals and 97 points.