Some unintended generosity led to Monday night’s visiting Pittsburgh Penguins donating two-thirds of one of the Kraken’s better forward lines of late.
Brandon Tanev and Jared McCann both spent the past two seasons in Pittsburgh and have been reunited on a line with center Morgan Geekie the past four games. During the three games before Monday’s, the trio had outscored opponents 2-0, outshot them 24-17 and out-chanced them 18-11 in even-strength situations according to the Natural Stat Trick advanced analytics website.
“I think we’re all on the same page, we’re communicating,” said Tanev, selected off the Penguins’ roster in the expansion draft. “We’re understanding how one another has played over the last stretch of games here, and I think there’s a confidence building between us.”
Each member of the line had at least two points over the three-game span. Tanev had a goal and two assists, but sees his role more as the forechecker that creates turnovers and sets the other two up for scoring chances.
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said after Monday’s morning skate that the line has been just as effective defensively as it is at generating scoring chances. All three players pride themselves on a two-way transitional game and Hakstol figures some of their defensive efforts have actually led to goals going the other way.
“The two, they’re connected,” Hakstol said. “They’re generating some of their offensive opportunities off playing good defense and then being able to transition.”
Tanev has already notched a career high eight goals to go with five assists for his new team. He spent part of Saturday catching up with his former teammates after they arrived at the Kraken Community Iceplex for a Penguins workout and said he harbors no ill will about the decision to leave him unprotected.
“It’s a business,” he said. “But at the same time you want to go out there and have one of your better games. You want to do what you need to do to help the team get two points.”
McCann had two goals and one assist the three games the line has been together. He’s now got 10 goals on the season — four shy of his career best — and leads the Kraken with five power play markers.
He, too, like Tanev, was asked about his feelings with regards to his former Penguins club entering Monday’s game. But McCann’s response, not surprisingly, was somewhat different given the Penguins traded him to Toronto ahead of the expansion draft rather than risk losing him for nothing as the team wasn’t protecting him.
The Kraken promptly chose McCann off the Maple Leafs’ roster.
“They didn’t want me,” MaCann said of the Penguins. “They didn’t want me. That’s the way I look at it. It’s pretty simple. I play for the Kraken now, and that’s where I want to be.”
Jerseys created for Indigenous Peoples Night
As part of Indigenous Peoples Night at Climate Pledge Arena, the Kraken had a local artist create specially designed warmup jerseys for the team to wear pregame. Fox Spears, 43, a Seattle-based member of the Karuk tribe from northwestern California, designed the jerseys based off traditional Karuk basketry and patterns.
The design has a square shape meant to reference square drums created by the Karuk people.
Spears was approached by the team in August and spent about 1 1/2 months on the design. His initial design ideas were inspired more off Coast Salish basketry, but the team encouraged him to go with the Karuk designs closer to his everyday work.
“Honestly, in my initial designs I made I was thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a Seattle-based team and I should probably do something that’s more Seattle-esque versus my prints from Northern California,'” Spears said. “And they were like: ‘No, no. We like you and your work.'”
Spears said he’s “honored” to have been chosen and watched Monday’s game from a suite in his first visit to the revamped arena, which he remembers going to back in pre-KeyArena days when it was still called the Seattle Center Coliseum. It was also to be the first time he’d seen his designs put on jerseys by the team.
“I’m really excited to see how they look on the jerseys themselves,” he said. “And to see the players wear them.”
Spears’ designs will also appear on additional T-shirt, hoodie and hat merchandise to be sold at Kraken team stores. The warmup jerseys will be signed by individual Kraken players and auctioned off by the team’s One Roof Foundation.
Eberle, Schwartz return
Kraken forwards Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz returned to the lineup Monday after missing two games with lower body injuries. Schwartz, who took a puck off his ankle in last week’s game in Buffalo, like Eberle had been a power play mainstay before his injury.
The Penguins entered with the league’s top penalty-killing unit at 92% efficiency, allowing only five goals in 61 opportunities against.
But the Kraken since Nov. 9 had gone 9-for-30 with the man advantage, an NHL-best conversion rate.
“We’ve just got to be crisp with the puck, move it quick and try getting it moving around,” Schwartz said. “I think our power play is effective when we’re shooting the puck and being around the net.”
Hakstol agreed, adding: “We’ve got to be good at what we do. We’ve got to be sharp and really in tune and doing the things that we do well. And it starts with entering the zone, getting set up and then executing from there.”
The Penguins are the NHL team with the most prominent current Kraken connections. Besides McCann and Tanev, defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and forward Riley Sheahan also played for Pittsburgh within the past few seasons. Kraken general manager Ron Francis starred with the Penguins for eight seasons, helping win the franchise’s first two Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and 1992. Assistant GM Jason Botterill also spent a decade in the Penguins’ front office through 2016-17 before becoming GM of the Buffalo Sabres.