The Seattle Kraken’s Alex Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand combined for 11 years of service as members of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last night, facing their former team at Climate Pledge Arena, Wennberg, playing in his 600th NHL game, scored the game-winning goal and Bjorkstrand set up a third-period insurance goal as the Kraken defeated the Blue Jackets, 3-1.
Seattle and the rest of the league now take a week-long break – nine days for the Kraken- as the league heads into the All-Star weekend, Feb. 3-4 at the FLA Center in Sunshine, Fla., home of the Florida Panthers. The Kraken go into the break on a high note, as they move back into first place in the Pacific Division (although that seems to change every day lately) a point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights, who both lost last night.
“I really liked our first half of the game,” said Kraken coach Dave Hakstol.. “We couldn’t stretch the lead and it’s going to be a horse race down the stretch and that’s exactly what it was. But it’s a real good win for our team. It’s a really good response coming off of last night. It’s a great way to finish off the month of January for our team.”
The Kraken were coming off a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames the previous night, but overall January was a memorable month for the second-year Kraken. Seattle had a rugged schedule, at one point playing 14 games in 25 days, but set a new NHL record with an 7-0 road trip, including the only regulation win by a visiting team versus the Boston Bruins this season. Overall, Seattle finished the month with an 11-3-2 record.
“It means a lot,” said Wennberg, of the team’s success. “It’s why we put in all the hard work to be on top. We’re doing a lot of good things .Our scoring, Our penalty killing. The goalies have been terrific. But there’s still a lot of hockey left.”
Morgan Geekie opened the scoring for Seattle at 8:40 of the first period, off a cross pass from Brandon Tanev. Geekie’s shot sailed over the glove, and right shoulder of Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. For Geekie, a defensive-minded forward, it was his first goal since Nov. 3.
While the Kraken outshot the visitors, 12-4, in the first period, they were only able to cash in one goal. Wennberg gave the Kraken some breathing room at 8:33 of the second period. Jared McCann retrieved the puck in the corner and passed across to Jordan Eberle behind the net. Eberle then hit Wennberg cutting towards the net and he sent it home. While McCann, Eberle and Wennberg have been members of the Kraken since Day One, Wennberg hasn’t often played on the same line with the two offensive-minded forwards.
“The lines have bounced around lately,” said Wennberg, who scored his 10th goal of the season. “I see them (Eberle and McCann) in practice. So, the chemistry is there.”
Wennberg joined that line with Matty Beniers sidelined with an injury for the second consecutive game. Last night was `Matty Beniers Bobblehead Night’ at Climate Pledge, with 10,000 bobbleheads being given away. Ironically, it was one of Beniers’ former University of Michigan teammates who would score the lone Columbus goal.
Standing in the slot, Kent Johnson lifted a shot over Brandon Tanev, who’d gone down to try and block the shot, and into the net. The 20-year-old Johnson was the fifth pick in the 2021 amateur draft. Beniers was selected second after a third Michigan player, Owen Power, was the number-one pick overall by the Buffalo Sabres.
In the third period, Bjorkstrand intercepted a clearing pass by defenseman Tim Berni at the blue line and hit teammate Eeli Tolvanen heading to the net. Tolvanen fired home a 20-footer, giving him goals in three straight games. Like the Kraken, Tolvanen’s had a remarkable January, scoring eight goals. This after being a healthy scratch for six games with the Nashville Predators before being picked up on waivers by the Kraken on Dec. 12. But Tolvanen didn’t suit up for game until Jan. 1
“Hockey wasn’t that much fun,” said Tolvanen, who estimated he went about a month without playing. “Just coming here and getting the trust from the coaches and getting the opportunity to play a lot, it feels really good.”.
After recording only four shots in the first period, the Blue Jackets rebounded in the second and third periods to finish with 25 shots. With 24 saves, Kraken goalie Philip Grubauer was selected the game’s number-three star. Grubauer and Martin Jones have also played well all month for the Kraken.
“I think we’ve had good goaltending all season. Whatever the outside world might say, I don’t care,” said Hakstol. “(Grubauer) performance tonight is a little bit undercover, If you look at that second period and the quality opportunities that Columbus had.. That was the key to me for our goaltender. The second period was a critical time of the game. He was there for his teammates. There were a couple [saves] from the inside.”
The Kraken’s next game takes place Feb. 7, a road match against the New York Islanders. The Kraken start the post All-Star break with a five-game East Coast (and Winnipeg) road trip. They don’t play again at home until Thursday, Feb. 16, against the Philadelphia Flyers.
- The Kraken were once again missing Jaden Schwartz and Jaden Schultz along with Matty Beniers, due to injuries. Coach Dave Hakstol said that none of the injuries were ‘long term’’ and also offered that Beniers should be able to play in next weekend’s All-Star game. As the only Kraken representative, Beniers would likely be replaced by another Seattle player if he’s not good to go. Jared McCann, Vince Dunn or Andre Burakovsky, would be the leading candidates
- Johnny Gaudreau, the Blue Jackets’ big off-season free agent signees, was held to two shots on goal – Grubauer made a nice glove save on one of them. The signing of Gaudreau led to the Blue Jackets trading their top scorer from last year, Oliver Bjorkstrand, to free up salary cap space. Bjorkstrand, who spent five years with the Blue Jackets, seven in the organization, led Columbus with 28 goals a year ago. Alex Wennberg, a former first round draft pick, spent six years with Columbus along with two years on the Florida Panthers before being taken by the Kraken in the expansion draft.
- Columbus completed a two-country ,four-game, six-day road trip with last night’s game in Seattle. The highlight of the trip was a win in Edmonton, Wednesday night. The Blue Jackets (15-32-3) have won only four road games this season.
S- Morgan Geekie (Brandon Tanev, Carson Soucy) 8:40.
S- Alex Wennberg (Jordan Eberle, Jared McCann) 8:33. C- Kent Johnson (Jack Roslovic) 18:59.
S- Eeli Tolvanen (Oliver Bjorkstrand) 5:39.
Shots on Goal- Columbus 25, Seattle 31.
Penalty Minutes- Columbus 4, Seattle 4.
Referees-Peter MacDougal, Furman South Linesmen- CJ Murray, Matt McPherson.
Three Stars- 1.Alex Wennberg, S. 2. Morgan Geekie, S. 3. Philipp Grubauer, S.