Hours after general manager Ron Francis delivered an edict that would set most of the roster firmly in place around one of the most stressful times of the year, the Seattle Kraken responded with the game they needed.
Morgan Geekie scored twice, Daniel Sprong added a pair of assists, and the Kraken never trailed in a 5-3 victory over the decimated St. Louis Blues, already picked apart from the trade deadline week, before 18,096 fans at Enterprise Center on Tuesday.
They are now five points clear of a playoff spot, ahead of the Calgary Flames with 22 games to go.
Despite three straight losses heading into the week, Vince Dunn explicitly said the Kraken were a group that didn’t need a major breakup. Francis responded affirmatively when asked about a big move this week, with the deadline on Friday, likely costing the Kraken either significant roster players in return, high draft picks, and/or prospects.
“I wouldn’t expect anything major,” Francis told 93.3. KJR-FM on Tuesday.
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“If we do anything it’s probably a little tweaking around the edges. Like I said, I like our group. They’ve worked really hard this season to put themselves in this position. You know, you start messing with your chemistry, it can mess it up too.”
There’s a firm belief the Kraken, still with their long-term contender plan under construction, that they are on the cusp of a playoff spot still not yet reaching a true contender championship window.
“These guys like playing for each other,” said Francis. “They believe they can get in. They have the opportunity to do that. If we can help them in some way that makes sense for the organization, short term or long term, we’re willing to do it. If those things aren’t there, then we’re not going to do something foolish.”
The Kraken, who brought Daniel Sprong back into the lineup for minor tweaks among the forward corps, led 1-0 entering the second period on Geekie’s goal, then got into a bit of a wild goose chase with St. Louis, exchanging four goals in the second period to eventually emerge with a 3-2 lead as Jared McCann tied his career high with 27 goals and Jamie Oleksiak ended a pair of Blues rallies from Robert Thomas and Brandon Saad with his eighth goal at 9:46.
Pavel Buchnevich had one final rally for the Blues ignited in his 18th goal with 5:31 left in the third period on a wrister from the left circle, but Brandon Tanev sealed the game with an empty netter, with just seven seconds left.
Martin Jones won for the first time since Jan. 25 with a 22-save effort, besting Jordan Binnington’s 21 stops.
1. DEPTH CAME TO PLAY. On a night where the Kraken didn’t have production from Matty Beniers, Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz or Oliver Bjorkstrand, the strength of teammates on the third and fourth line, engineered to do more than just check, came through in a much needed way. Geekie had his best game in two years with regards to goal scoring production, earning his third multi-goal game of his career. He was lights-out at the face-off circle too, winning 7-of-11 draws. Eeli Tolvanen had a hand in three pivotal goals, trusted by Dave Hakstol to seal the game in the final seconds with his third assist on Tanev’s empty netter. Sprong, a healthy scratch the last two games, responded with a pair of assists. When they needed an on-brand night from on their on-brand depth, it came through at an opportune time.
2. THE KRAKEN GOT THE FIRST PERIOD THEY NEEDED. Scoring the first goal, like Sunday against the Maple Leafs which ended in a 5-1 loss, wasn’t a problem when it came to answering the call of a strong start. The issue lied within finishing the first period with a lead, where the Kraken were 16-2-1 at the first intermission in that state, and able to build off momentum. Toronto stormed back with three goals to leave the Kraken shellshocked and ran away with the game for the rest of the day. This time, Geekie’s first period goal wasn’t just an aberration, it was an omen. The Kraken weathered a Blues push early, who outshot the Kraken 8-1, and turned the first period around with the lead and gradual momentum on the Blues net to secure the lead at the intermission. St. Louis responded in the second period, but never led, and were forced the chase the Kraken for the rest of the night.
3. COMFORT IN THE CLOSE ONES. Wasn’t that a fun exercise? Was your pulse racing? Were you experiencing racing thoughts of doom as the Blues stormed the Kraken zone in the final minute of regulation? Welcome to stretch drive hockey. It gets even better in the playoffs. The Kraken have been well-known to generate offense at a high-octane pace. They can hang eight goals on you. That was fun and productive back in November. This is now, where the power of hanging and conquering one-goal games of a lower-scoring variety, demanding defensive resistance, are routine.
“I think it shows we can close out,” said Geekie.
“We tried to play below the goal line as best as we could.”
The Kraken responded with protecting their lead, resisting a Blues push on the Buchnevich goal, then thwarted an extra-attacker rally with an empty net grim reaper in Brandon Tanev (who had his fourth empty netter of the season). The Kraken saved their best shot quality metric for the third period, owning 81% at five-on-five over the Blues. The results took a significant step in rehearsing for playoff hockey.
The Kraken will take on the Detroit Red Wings for game two of the road trip, Thursday at 4:00pm PT (93.3. KJR / Kraken Audio Network) from Little Caesars Arena.
KRAKEN LINEUP AT ST. LOUIS, 2/28: