NASHVILLE — As the Kraken roster was being assembled, a question hung over it.
How was a team without a bona fide top-line center, without a top six reminiscent of previous teams that went on deep playoff runs, going to score goals?
Even with a healthy Yanni Gourde, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and has not been in the lineup, and with Calle Jarnkrok, who is in COVID-19 protocol, the Kraken’s lineup is one that has been questioned throughout the league, at least up front.
At first it appeared coach Dave Hakstol and his staff would rely on a defense projected to be deep, and Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer in net. After two regular-season games and six in the preseason, it’s apparent the Kraken may score more than expected.
Already, Seattle has developed a reputation for an aggressive forecheck (attempting to regain possession of the puck in its offensive zone), and its defensive system — when working — relies on zone-entry stops of the opposing team to create transition the other way. When the Kraken is at its most effective, it uses those opportunities to create scoring chances.
The top line of Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz have done that best.
“We’re just trying to keep it simple, to be honest,” McCann said. “We’re still learning as a team, and we’re still trying to figure out a lot of things defensively as a team. We’re going to keep working on it every single day.”
The Kraken created a lot of chances during a 4-3 victory over the Predators in Nashville on Thursday night when the Predators didn’t offer much room in initial offensive-zone sets. Some of that came from the forecheck, some on transition, and in one case, newcomer Alex Barre-Boulet just made a heck of a play to put the Kraken ahead for good.
“We didn’t get a lot from inside,” Hakstol said. “The (Alexander) Wennberg goal (off a nice pass from Barre-Boulet) was a big play and a good goal that we were able to find a seam (on the Barre-Boulet pass) to the backdoor (of the net). There wasn’t a lot of that on either end of the rink. The middle of the ice was shut down pretty good. We were able to get some pucks through from outside. I thought we got better through the game.”
On Thursday, it was the power play that won the game. The top power-play unit has consistently been the top three forwards, Mark Giordano and either Wennberg or Ryan Donato.
The second unit has routinely been Morgan Geekie, Joonas Donskoi, Wennberg or Donato, Vince Dunn and on Thursday, whoever could fill in for Marcus Johansson.
None of that exactly compares with the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl-led unit in Edmonton or the ferocious power-play unit of the Colorado Avalanche, but since the preseason, it has gotten the job done.
“Right now we have the focus going to the net with guys coming in,” said Wennberg, whose net drive caused the rebound for Brandon Tanev’s power-play goal Thursday. “We can have a tip, we have a guy coming in getting a rebound. That’s the way we got to do it. It’s not always going to be pretty.”
McCann’s goal came on a shot from the top of the circle that deflected off a Predators defenseman. He credited Hakstol for creating plays the Kraken can use early in its system building on special teams.
“(Hakstol)’s got a great offensive mind, coming from Toronto with (Auston) Matthews and all those guys there,” McCann said. “He’s been giving us plays, and they’ve been working.”
At first it was fair to wonder where the Kraken might generate offense. There are a lot of players in the lineup it’s relying on to hit their respective ceilings.
It has just been two games, and one win, but perhaps some of those rumblings of wonder can be put at ease, just a little.
On to Columbus
The Kraken’s opponent Saturday, the Columbus Blue Jackets, jumped to a quick start to the season. In their home opener Thursday night, the Blue Jackets pummeled the Arizona Coyotes 8-2.
Oliver Bjorkstrand scored twice with two assists in that game, and goalie Elvis Merzlikens earned the win, wearing the jersey of friend and former Blue Jackets teammate Matiss Kivlenieks, who died July 4 in a fireworks accident.
- The Kraken had just one shot during the third period Thursday and scored an empty-net goal, just the third time that has happened in the NHL since 2011.
- The win in Nashville was also the first time a Seattle team beat an NHL team since the Metropolitans defeated the Ottawa Senators — the original, not the current version — in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in 1920.
- Seattle doesn’t have a player from the Blue Jackets in expansion — it would have been Gavin Bayreuther, who didn’t sign — but Wennberg spent six seasons with Columbus.