Two games, no goals.
That’s the total count right now from the Seattle Kraken, allowed in their own zone.
Completing practice on Wednesday at Kraken Community Iceplex, the Kraken are on the eve of taking their flawless mark into their first road game against the Vancouver Canucks. While pre-season games account for nothing in the standings, there is firm belief from inside the dressing room with progress as a measurement:
Goaltending and defense.
The Kraken have allowed 53 shots in two pre-season games, a slight tick below last season’s tightfisted average. Goaltenders Philipp Grubauer, Martin Jones, Joey Daccord, and Magnus Hellberg have stopped them all.
The two games have provided a look from the tweaks Ron Francis made to the blueline corps, to keep high-stress activity away from goaltending as much as possible.
“It’s a very competitive blueline,” said defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, preparing for his tenth NHL season.
“We have a lot of guys who can step in, play big minutes, and in different roles. It’s good to have those pieces, and we all push each other.”
Oleksiak, Justin Schultz, Adam Larsson, Vince Dunn, Carson Soucy and Michal Kempny all have combined for 43 NHL seasons. Kempny and Schultz arrived via free agency, while the other four have returned with moderate to extensive NHL experience and for their second season in Seattle. While the Kraken struggled to put up offense and progress in the standings last season, the defense laid a foundation to suppress shots that ranked fourth best (28.9 per game) in the NHL.
And about that experience?
“It’s about setting an example,” said Oleksiak. “Just going on the ice in practice, practicing hard, setting a good pace, and showing every day you come in and get a little better each day.”
Oleksiak said he learned those core values when he started with the Dallas Stars, including Sergei Gonchar, Sheldon Souray, Brad Lukowich and Trevor Daley.
Among that group: four Stanley Cup titles. As we know, Oleksiak came so close in 2020 when Dallas lost to Tampa Bay in a six-game Final series.
“It’s about giving back to the game,” said Oleksiak. “The older you get, the more you want to make sure you make the new guys coming in – you make it that much better.”
FIVE SENT BACK
First rounds of cuts were delivered expectedly before Wednesday’s afternoon session, made official with the assignment of five players back to their major junior teams. All five players – who are younger than age 20 and therefore ineligible to play in the minors – have either two routes for their path this season: either make the NHL team or go back to the CHL where they are expected to fill high impact roles.
“Every one of them – we had a good, positive conversation,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. “You want them to grow from their experience here. I believe all of them did.”
“They all had good opportunities to be around this environment and this atmosphere.”
Jagger Firkus, taken in the second round of this year’s draft, was sent back to the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors, where he is expected to play in a major role for the team’s offense after leading them with 36 goals last season.
Four others are headed back to the Ontario Hockey League: David Goyette of Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay’s Kyle Jackson and Ty Nelson, and Tucker Robertson to Peterborough.
Jacob Melanson was sent back to Acadie-Bathurst of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He will have a price to pay before he can get into any game action. Melanson was suspended for two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety after his high hit on James Hamblin in Monday night’s win over Edmonton.
The transaction doesn’t mean the suspension goes away. Upon returning to the Kraken, whenever the day, month, or year, he will have to serve the suspension before coming back to play.
Consistency spelled the two primary groups that split the practice day since the start of training camp. Line combinations stayed mostly firm, enabling standouts such as Ryan Donato, Matty Beniers, and Oliver Bjorkstrand to work together, along with Shane Wright’s trio that installed veterans Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle on the wings.
Both combos made an impact in the two pre-season victories on Monday and Tuesday.
With the exception of Wright’s line, everything was torn down and rebuilt on Wednesday.
Hakstol said he expects to give the lines from Wednesday a consistent look over the next two or three days. Among the more noticeable shifts: Yanni Gourde to the left wing, playing alongside Alex Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Gourde was previously playing as a center between Jared McCann and Karson Kuhlman. Solid play along the boards, typically demanding of a winger, suits Gourde’s rugged and abrasive approach.
“We know he can play up the middle and do a very good job there, anchoring a line,” said Hakstol. “He can also do a great job on the wing. We saw that for a stretch last year. He’s played a lot of left wing in his career, he’s comfortable in playing both.”
Previously, the morning session on Sunday was an event in forecasting the Kraken lineup – everyone in that group played on Monday, while the afternoon group was reserved for Tuesday.
Matters are expected to change. Rosters for Thursday’s game in Vancouver were released, a mix of both practice groups from Wednesday. It will be a heavily weighted rookie roster, including Shane Wright. Joonas Donskoi, at 474 games, will be the most experienced skater in the lineup.
Martin Jones and Joey Daccord are the goaltenders who will travel to Vancouver.
PRACTICE LINEUP: MORNING SESSION
PRACTICE LINEUP: AFTERNOON SESSION