There was no sense in coasting into what will be a well-earned nine days of rest.
The Seattle Kraken made it to the final lap to the finish line, completing with a mad sprint and a wire-to-wire finish, while Alex Wennberg scored the game winner in his 600th career NHL game to beat his former employer, the Columbus Blue Jackets, in a 3-1 victory before 17,151 fans at Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday.
Does first place sound satisfying? That’s where the Kraken will be, entering their break. They’ll now rest for a league mandated bye and the All-Star break until February 7, when they start a five-game trip against the New York Islanders.
COMPLETE RADIO GAME HIGHLIGHTS
“It’s a real good way to finish off the month of January for our team,” said head coach Dave Hakstol.
The Kraken finished the month at a staggering 11-3-1, jumping the Los Angeles Kings after they lost earlier in the day, 5-2 to Tampa Bay.
Morgan Geekie delivered the opening blow for his first goal since November 3, a right circle rocket past Elvis Merzlikins while Wennberg finished Jordan Eberle’s threaded pass at the front of the net.
“Game six hundred – every now and then you pinch yourself to realize you’ve been in this league for awhile,” said Wennberg.
Eeli Tolvanen – for his eighth goal in 15 games since making his Kraken debut – answered Kent Johnson’s late second period goal by uncorking a wrist shot through traffic that beat Merzlikins to his blocker side. The Kraken went up 3-1 at 5:39 of the third period and never looked back.
Philipp Grubauer, with a .940 save percentage since New Year’s Day in four games, earned the win with 24 saves.
1. Dave Hakstol pushed the right buttons with the lineup shuffle. It was clear after the Calgary game and disappointed feedback that followed on Friday night, a fresh approach was needed. The tweaks paid off. Morgan Geekie, centering Brandon Tanev and Andre Burakovsky, scored the game opening goal while Wennberg, taking a spin in his 600th NHL game with Jordan Eberle and Jared McCann, scored the eventual game winner. There was no sense in changing the Tolvanen-Gourde-Bjorkstrand trio, arguably the best line of the homestand and making an impact with Tolvanen’s goal to put the game out of reach. Hakstol needed a change for the better and got what he and the crew needed.
2. This victory was a little harder than expected. If not for Elvis Merzlikins, this game would have turned into a blowout, and likely very early. The first period was a mirror image of the Wednesday win over the Canucks, where the Kraken had the puck virtually all first period. Merzlikins, who’s had a rough season, channeled the 2019-20 Merzlikins and stopped Yanni Gourde on a half-open, glove save stop, then robbed Jared McCann on a two-on-one shorthanded rush with a ten-bell right pad save. That kept the Jackets in the game, for a while (Johnson’s late second period goal coming shortly after). It put the game in little bit of peril, and the Kraken came up with a big penalty kill early in the third period. But the metrics showed it was just a matter of time before the Kraken delivered the knockout blow, owning a 63% advantage at five-on-five shot quality. Tolvanen scored, and game over.
3. The month of January has defined the storybook Kraken season. The dog days, the seven-game road gauntlet, the crunch of 12 games in 21 days, 15 in 28, and injuries to Jaden Schwartz, Justin Schultz, and Matty Beniers: an exact recipe for many pundits who predicted this to become the demise of the second year Kraken, whose coach (the Cinderella kind) was supposed to turn back into a pumpkin. Toronto, Boston, Edmonton (twice), Tampa Bay, New Jersey, and Colorado were on the menu.
Instead, every trap door was turned into rocket booster. The Kraken beat every team listed above at one point except Colorado, which went to a shootout. The Kraken beat this stretch with depth, goaltending, penalty killing that turned the corner (seven straight games with a clean sheet), and “next man up” – the words from Yanni Gourde earlier this week. It’s all starting to come together. The Kraken are a first place team at their All-Star break with a +26 goal differential (only Winnipeg and Dallas are better). It’s real.
KRAKEN LINEUP VS. COLUMBUS, 1/28: