Shane Wright almost had one in the first period, and wasted little time redeeming himself.
The prized 18-year old prodigy, newly touched up from a stint in the AHL, returned to the Seattle Kraken lineup to score his first career NHL goal against the Montreal Canadiens, a scenario many had dreamed of since the fateful night he fell into the Seattle Kraken hands at the NHL Draft, five months ago.
The Canadiens though won the battle on the big scoreboard. They broke free of a 1-1 tie with a pair of second period goals in seven seconds and though visibly tired at the end of a four-game road trip, held on to defeat the Kraken 4-2 before sellout crowd on Tuesday at Climate Pledge Arena.
The mood was mixed afterward, on the Kraken side. Their prized first round draft pick has a well-deserved and long-awaited first goal. But another opportunity to inflate their successful start to the season slipped away, finishing the three-game homestand with just one win. They never led at all, except for Matty Beniers’ game winning overtime goal against Washington last Thursday.
“We had some bad changes tonight,” said Jared McCann, referencing a late second period goal by Rem Pitlick that put Montreal up 4-1.
“I had one that resulted in a goal, so we’ve got to be better.”
The penalty kill was a bright spot and earned a clean sheet at four-of-four against Montreal. The undoing was a defensive zone turnover to Montreal’s top line, cashed in by Cole Caufield’s one-timer at the left circle, then seven seconds later, on a jailbreak two-on-one after the Kraken lost a face-off, and Josh Anderson converted from the right circle at 2:12.
Boom, 3-1 deficit in the blink of an eye.
“You give up the goals we did in the second, those are hard to dig out from,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. “They capitalized on those opportunities and made us pay for those.”
Then, there’s Wright, prepared for this moment since he came back with extra shine following four goals in five games with AHL Coachella Valley. He buried a one-timer from the right circle with 4:30 left in the first period, tying the game.
Extra motivation facing Montreal? He paused, then smiled, then let out a small admission.
“Maybe a little bit, I think,” said Wright.
“For me it was more important coming off the conditioning stint. My first game after that, it was more important coming out with a good start and show my time down there helped me grow.”
Wright played as the center for Yanni Gourde and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Both got on the scoresheet for assists on Wright’s goal, digging in for board work behind the net before Bjorkstrand set up Wright with a one-timer.
“In the first period, he had three or four good looks,” said Hakstol.
“That line had some jump. He was a big part of it. That’s what you want to see – he came back in the lineup with that type of energy and the playmaking energy that he showed.”
Jake Allen made 31 stops as Montreal gathered their first-ever win against the Kraken in three tries.
The Kraken will now need to respond to their first set of back-to-back regulation losses since October, with Washington Capitals waiting for Friday in a four-game road trip opener at 4pm PT (93.3 KJR-FM / Kraken Audio Network).
1. Shane Wright responded and in a big way. There’s zero chance the first takeaway from this game has anything to do with something other than Wright, regardless of result (well, unless we topped the 9-8 overtime game against Los Angeles). The stars aligned for a perfect moment many were anticipating. Like it or not, Wright versus the Canadiens was going to be a story, mostly because of these moments(though Wright downplayed it later, then hinted about motivation after the game anyway).
However you want to slice it, emotion is a natural source of energy for an NHL player since the dawn of time. Montreal was rumored to be in on Wright for months. They even had dinner together. Then the tables were turned on draft night. As the Canadiens had the right to change their mind, which is quite possible they did, Wright also had the human right to internally fuel up and channel a source of productivity - how many times have we discussed the one famous scene from the documentary, "The Last Dance" which produced the Michael Jordan meme with attached subtitle, "And I took that personally"? This isn’t to compare Wright to “His Airiness” at age 18, but to provide context on fuel for the emotional engine for those who compete in the professional sports circle.
The response on Tuesday night told us that Wright has the ability to manage his emotions in the moment, when the time calls for it. He nearly dunked a one-timer on goaltender Jake Allen to potentially finish a grade-A scoring chance for his first goal early in the first period, stoned by a right pad save that left Wright visibly exasperated on the bench afterward. With emotions in check later in the period, he made good on his moment of the night: finishing a tape-to-tape feed by Oliver Bjorkstrand at the right circle, and setting Climate Pledge Arena and Twitter into a blazing frenzy.
Matty Beniers is the laid back, cool-as-a-cucumber leader the Kraken will benefit from, for years. Wright has the energy and outgoing passion befitting of the “heart on his sleeve” potential leader as a perfect complement. Though the Kraken lost the battle on the big scoreboard, they gained a seminal moment that was extremely important for their young center’s next step.
2. Don’t pin this one on Martin Jones. A brief glance at the box score won’t paint a pretty picture for Jones, pulled off the shelf for his first taste of action in a week, last seen in last Tuesday’s delirious 9-8 overtime win at Los Angeles. Four goals allowed on 16 shots won’t help the save percentage statistic. But the game wasn’t suited for a goaltender’s effectiveness. The Canadiens at one point owned four goals on eight shots, with Jones going several minutes without seeing one single touch of the puck between a pair of defensive breakdowns and odd-man rushes, effectively putting his progress at a dead end and a 4-1 hole, late in the second period. It was too steep of a hill for the Kraken to climb. He was a spectator for large chunks of the game, then asked to come out of his slumber and go into hyper-drive to clean up defensive spills at a moment’s notice.
3. Can you spare a lead? It’s amazing to fathom the progress of the Kraken, 30% through the season, with a grip on second place in the Pacific Division as a playoff team while managing a home record of 7-6-2. It’s a stark contrast of 8-1-1 on the road. What the last homestand told us, where the Kraken went 1-2, is the benefit of playing with a lead and preferably early. Except where Matty Beniers finished a remarkable comeback on Dec. 1 in overtime against the Capitals, the Kraken were either left tied or trailing for the entire homestand. They haven’t led since 6:22 was remaining in the third period on Nov. 29 at “Chaos in Los Angeles,” a span now rising to 186:29 covering over three games. The Kraken are 10-1-1 when they score the first goal of the game, and in the wildly successful seven game win streak now in the rear-view mirror, there were four occasions they scored the first goal of the game within the first five minutes.
In all but two wins - Nov. 23 against San Jose and Dec. 1 against the Capitals – they held a first period lead. Chasing games tend to be an energy-drain.
KRAKEN LINEUP VS. MONTREAL, 12/6: