New day, same result.
What else is there to say about thousands of ways to win, and the Seattle Kraken who are checking off box after box? Philipp Grubauer returned to action for his first start in nearly two weeks, coming through with a 32 save night while Matty Beniers extended his goal-scoring streak to five straight games in a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday before 13,219 fans at KeyBank Center.
Grubauer, giving Martin Jones the night off after the latter played every minute in the previous five Kraken wins, improved to 8-1-2 in his career against the Sabres.
“I thought (Grubauer) was excellent tonight,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol.
“He was reading the play, he was on top of things that were going through seams, cross ice, and was very good tonight.”
The Kraken remain undefeated in 2023, winning six in a row starting on New Year’s Day. Their five-game trip, chock full of “make or break” stakes, has developed into a smashing success with a 5-0 record and catapulting them into the playoff conversation at the 40-game mark, where they stand two points back of the Kings and four back of Vegas for top record in the Pacific Division. They have scored four goals or more in each of the six wins, elevating into the third most potent offense in the NHL and leading the league in five-on-five goals (106).
Jordan Eberle answered Alex Tuch’s game opening goal with a crucial late first period marker, and Yanni Gourde fired back on Rasmus Dahlin’s power play to leverage a 2-2 tie by the end of the second.
Beniers, now with nine points in the last five games, buried the go-ahead goal just 1:06 into the third period while battling for position at the net.
“The goal he scored in the third is indicative of how he plays,” said Hakstol. “He finds a way inside.”
“He’s got the moxie and grit to go through those hard areas.”
Beniers then set up Justin Schultz to hammer a one-timer past Eric Comrie for a 4-2 lead. Tuch scored his second goal of the game on an extra attacker situation with 22 seconds left to cut the Kraken lead to a goal, but it was too late.
1. Matty Beniers again, with a hard example of playing beyond his years. There he was, with the simple willingness to go to the net, take a few bumps, but preserve to find paydirt. There he was, with the delicate, saucy, and pristine set-up to Justin Schultz for the eventual game winner. There he was, out on a face-off in the neutral zone with less than 20 seconds left to seal the game and deliver on trust offered from Dave Hakstol to win handle the puck responsibly in the dying seconds. It’s a revelation almost becoming an LP tune stuck on replay, but Beniers put another deposit in the bank of his Calder Trophy campaign. Impressive stuff from a player delivering well beyond his years, at age 20.
2. Philipp Grubauer needed this game, and the Kraken needed Philipp Grubauer. Lost in the shuffle perhaps of Martin Jones’ torrid run in November, who had no choice but to carry the load in net with Grubauer injured, and another five-game heater this last week was Grubauer’s potential. Make no mistake, the Kraken season would be perhaps lost at sea without the goaltending backbone Jones has provided when at his best – just like Matty Beniers’ flying colors season, or the four-line depth the Kraken boast this year. But this isn’t an NFL-style “starter/backup” goaltending dynamic.
The Kraken will play in six more back-to-back sets (now 2-0 in the second game). They are in the middle of 17 games in 31 days. They will need both goaltenders fresh and at optimized performance to prevent burnout, and Grubauer shook off nearly two weeks of rust in the first period to deliver key saves early in the second and third period, keeping the Sabres at bay. He got the run support needed for a win, which at times has been lacking this year. A healthy Grubauer like the one tonight, Dec. 18 against the Jets, and Nov. 25 against the Golden Knights is a huge long-term gain for Kraken potential. He earned that Davy Jones hat.
3. This is exactly the kind of momentum the Kraken need heading into perhaps the biggest game of the year. Buckle up. Thursday against Boston has the feeling of a Kraken game like we’ve never felt before. Though the Stanley Cup Playoffs are still 42 games away, this feels like a postseason showdown. The Kraken are hitting all the right notes with their offensive depth, the power play (scoring in six of the last seven games), timely goaltending, and road poise.
We’re past New Year’s Day and the Boston Bruins still haven’t lost in regulation on home ice (19-0-3), leading the league with an obscene 32-4-4 record (68 points), and on pace for a 65 win season. They will now have their hands full with a confident Kraken team that is on a six-game heater, lighting up the scoreboard more than an out-of-control bonfire with five goals per game in that streak, and completely playing without fear on the road – a 14-4-2 record – where only Vegas and New Jersey own more road wins.
Grab some popcorn. This will be a fun “how ready are we for the playoffs” measuring stick.
The Kraken visit the Bruins at TD Garden, 4pm PT (93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network) on Thursday before ending the trip on Saturday at Chicago.
KRAKEN LINEUP VS. BUFFALO, 1/10: