For the first time all season, the Kraken had a fully healthy roster to choose from ahead of Wednesday night’s game at Climate Pledge Arena against the Carolina Hurricanes, who had the NHL’s best record.
The addition of forward Mason Appleton off injured reserve, where he had spent the past month because of an ankle injury, gave coach Dave Hakstol options he had been missing since the season opener. Back then, forward Calle Jarnkrok was in COVID-19 protocol and missed the franchise’s inaugural game in Las Vegas, and fellow winger Marcus Johansson suffered an injury that same night and missed several weeks.
Unfortunately for the Kraken, the healthy roster may have been short-lived as Jarnkrok left with an undisclosed injury early in the third period of an eventual 2-1 win over the Hurricanes. His status had yet to be updated Thursday.
Appleton was injured late in the second period of a win over Montreal on Oct. 26 when he was hauled down from behind by former Winnipeg Jets teammate Sami Niku. Appleton’s foot was placed in a boot brace, and he said the injury impacted “every part of my day.” Walking upstairs nightly to bed was a challenge.
Even after weeks of rehabilitation enabled him to stop and start quickly on skates to accommodate his power-forward role, it wasn’t until the past day or two he felt in proper game shape.
“You can get out of shape much faster than you can get into it,” Appleton said Wednesday. “So, yeah, I did my due diligence on the ice, and I’m excited to go.”
To free up a roster spot, the Kraken placed forward Nathan Bastian on waivers and he was claimed Thursday by his former New Jersey Devils team. Bastian, taken from New Jersey in the expansion draft, was a healthy scratch the first five games of the homestand and has a goal and one assist in 12 appearances.
Appleton recorded an assist in seven games before his injury. But it’s his straightforward, go-to-the-net style the Kraken have been striving to improve upon all season, and they’ve done a better job of that in recent weeks.
Hakstol planned to pair Appleton on a line with similarly skilled winger Brandon Tanev, hoping to free up space for Jared McCann to add to his goal totals.
“That’s a piece of being a power forward, getting up ice and creating puck possession in the zone,” Hakstol said of Appleton. “He’s not a guy that’s going to be purely standing on top of the blue paint (the crease), but that is one of his abilities, so when it’s time to get inside he’s got to be a guy on that line that when it’s his turn he’s got to get there.”
Silvertips’ strong start
All the fuss over the Kraken playing their first month-plus of games may have distracted locally from the sizzling start by the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, who have gone 16-0-0-1 to open their season after Wednesday night’s 6-2 win over the Tri-City Americans. The win gave the Silvertips points in a franchise-record 17 consecutive games.
The only blemish on their season record was a 4-3 shootout loss at home to Portland on Oct. 29. Since then they have won 10 in a row, and Saturday they will play host to the Kamloops Blazers (14-2-0-0) in what’s being billed as a showdown between Memorial Cup contenders.
Everett still has a ways to go to match the opening of the 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings, who started that season a record 29 games (24-0-5) without a loss. That Brandon unit, coached by former NHL defenseman Dunc McCallum, boasted current Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon as a winger. It also had four future NHL first-round picks in McCrimmon’s brother, Brad, Brian Propp, Ray Allison and Laurie Boschman as well as other soon-to-be NHL players Walt Poddubny, Steve Patrick, Don Dietrich, Rick Knickle, Dave Chartier and Don Gillen.
Brandon finished 58-5-9 and set the current Canadian Hockey League record with 125 points. They beat Portland to capture the WHL title but lost the Memorial Cup final to Peterborough, 2-1, on a Bob Atwell sudden-death overtime goal after a controversial non-icing call.
It’s unlikely Everett can replicate that Brandon team, usually in conversations as the greatest in WHL history, but the fast start by coach Dennis Williams’ group was somewhat unexpected in that it lost perennial All-Star netminder Dustin Wolf to the professional ranks. But the goaltending tandem of Braden Holt and Koen MacInnes has more than handled things and bolstered a crew that includes points leader Michael Gut, standout defenseman Olen Zellweger, top goal-scorer Jackson Berezowski as well as Alex Swetlikoff, Ronan Seely, Jonny Lambos and Aidan Sutter.
Kraken have seconds
The once league-worst Kraken power play has taken off noticeably this month, going 6-for-15 since Nov. 9 for a 40% efficiency rate, second only to 42.9% by Colorado during that span. But the power play had shown signs of improvement before that, connecting for a goal against Buffalo on Nov. 4 just two seconds after a man advantage officially expired.
Hakstol attributed the boost to the Kraken successfully chasing after rebounds. McCann leads the team with four power-play goals, two coming off rebounds since his return from COVID-19 protocol Nov. 11.
McCann scored against Chicago after Jaden Schwartz collected a rebound and slid the puck over to him. On Sunday with the Kraken trailing the Washington Capitals 1-0 late in the first period, McCann picked up a rebound and backhanded the tying marker home.
“One of the biggest things the other night is we scored on a ‘second’ — we found a rebound inside,” Hakstol said. “We were in this room maybe two weeks ago talking about that — how we were shooting the puck but not finding any ‘seconds’ inside. So that was a big piece of the goal for us the other night.”
- Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer earned his second consecutive start in net Wednesday, coming off a season-best 37-save performance against Washington. That total was the highest for Grubauer since making 38 stops for Colorado against Dallas on Dec. 28, 2019.
- The 18 consecutive games without a goal for Kraken forward Joonas Donskoi entering Wednesday was his longest drought since 2018-19. Donskoi, playing for San Jose, scored on Jan. 10 of that season and went 34 regular-season games and another five playoff contests before notching his next goal in a second-round series against Colorado.