BUFFALO, N.Y. — Leave it to forward Brandon Tanev to epitomize this winning Kraken stretch by stealing a puck at his own blueline and racing the length of the ice with an opponent draped all over him.
That Tanev, who makes hard work a habit, somehow got a shot off and then more impressively converted his own rebound for a first-period, short-handed goal told the story of Monday night’s contest and the past week-plus of games. A fourth win in five matchups by the Kraken, this one 7-4 over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center, was the result of plenty of second and third efforts all-around that got goals coming in by the bucketload.
“The mindset of our team was great tonight in that sense,” Tanev said after his career-high eighth goal of the season to go with two assists on a three-point night. “They gave us a late push. They got a couple of late goals. But at the end of the day we got a great win there for our group.”
The Kraken had actually scored an earlier short-handed goal that same period, the first in franchise history on a Carson Soucy slap shot from the high slot between faceoff circles that beat onetime Spokane Chiefs goalie Dustin Tokarski. Yanni Gourde had done much of the dirty work on that one, forcing a turnover in Buffalo’s end and hitting Soucy with a perfect pass.
And for the Kraken, now 8-13-1 and looking nothing like a team that lost six straight earlier this month, an early 3-0 cushion that opening frame from short-handed markers and the first of two goals on the night by Jared McCann left plenty of room for miscues later on.
And there would be a few.
The Sabres spent the rest of the night narrowing the margin to just two goals, as they did on a pair of second-period markers on pucks that hit the end boards and bounced back quickly toward waiting Buffalo players before goalie Chris Driedger could react.
But each time, the Kraken countered — first with Morgan Geekie battling for a puck deep in the corner and somehow one-handing a pass out to McCann alone in front for his second goal of the game to make it 4-1.
Later, it was Mason Appleton banging home his first of the year on a goal mouth scramble to send the Kraken to intermission up 5-2. Then, in the third, Jaden Schwartz countered another early Sabres goal and Appleton added his second of the night into an empty net with Tokarski pulled after Buffalo had again drawn within two.
“I think that’s what made things good for our group the past couple of games,” Tanev said. “We’ve been talking and making things easy by communicating. And being hard on the pucks. Playing the right way. And I think we have that mindset as a group.”
Tanev defined “being hard on the puck” as simply “committing to the little details and being physical when you can. Not letting them have easy opportunities to get out of the zone. I think that’s the mindset the group needs to have.”
Tanev wouldn’t let the Sabres stay in his own team’s zone either on his first-period, short-handed effort. His flowing hair locks likely tickled the face of Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlen, who desperately draped himself atop the Kraken penalty killer’s back trying to atone for his own blueline giveaway.
Alas, Dahlen allowed Tanev to beat him twice: First in stealing the puck and outbattling him to the Sabres net for a shot. Tanev completed the trifecta by beating Dahlen to his own rebound and tucking it past Tokarski as the stunned home fans groaned in disbelief.
“Your overall mindset is to try to do the job and kill the penalty,” Tanev said. “But when you get an opportunity to take a puck to the net, you take the puck to the net. I had a pretty good scoring chance, and I was fortunate enough to get a great bounce and have the puck go in the net.”
Appleton said after his two-goal effort that the Kraken scoring a season-high seven goals and winning yet again will inevitably help his teammates keep buying into that work-first mindset.
“The more you win, the more you trust the system,” Appleton said. “Whether that’s how your line plays or how the team plays. I thought we did a good job for most of tonight’s game. We hit a couple of walls here and there, but at the end of the night we got the points and that’s what matters.”
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol agreed, admitting it wasn’t always the prettiest all-around display. But he added that his players never truly let the Sabres get too close, namely because they kept working hard when they needed to and were rewarded for it.
And that end result wasn’t always happening even two weeks ago.
“Everybody’s a little bit more excited to come to the rink,” Hakstol said. “It feels a little bit better. In all honestly there was a stretch of four or five games that were probably more complete that tonight for sure in terms of our play with the puck for 60 minutes, but we didn’t get rewarded.
“So really, the biggest thing for me was the players staying with it,” he added. “Staying together through some of those tough stretches where you’re playing pretty darned well but not getting rewarded. So, it was nice to be rewarded tonight.”