The Seattle Kraken had a golden opportunity last night, and they took advantage. With the Calgary Flames, the team below them in the standings idle, the Kraken had a chance to pick up two points in the standings against the Columbus Blue Jackets, currently owners of the worst record in the National Hockey League.
While the Blue Jackets fought the good fight, Alex Wennberg’s power play goal at 7:12 of the third period put the Kraken ahead for good, posting a 4-2 victory. The Kraken are now 3-for-3 on their current road trip, 35-21-6 overall, winning three games in four nights.
The win puts the Kraken nine points ahead of the Flames’ in the Pacific Division standings. The Flames are fifth in the division, but ninth in the Western Conference. The top three teams in the Pacific and Central Division make the playoffs along with the next two teams record-wise. While the Kraken hope to garner one of the top three slots in the division, their recent victories are helping to solidify a playoff berth.
Along with Wennberg’s game winner- and his last three goals have been game winners- Jared McCann became the first Kraken in the two-year history of the team to reach the 30-goal plateau. The forward led Seattle with 26 goals a season ago.
“It’s great, but at the same time we’re still trying to accomplish something as a team and we have a great group of guys in here that I’m happy to help win games,” McCann said.
“We played start to finish,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said. “We [were] pretty consistent throughout. A lot of specialty teams (four power plays for each team); a little too much on a back to back, rather see a little more 5-on-5. But a really consistent effort.”
After the pesky Blue Jackets, who are 25 points out of a playoff berth, tied the game on Adam Boqvist’s goal at 4:53 of the third period, the Kraken would go on the power play two minutes later. Eeli Tolvanen found Wennberg to the right side of the net. The Swedish-born center, whirled around and tucked the puck into the corner past Columbus goalkeeper Elvis Merzilikins.
“We had talked about the getting the puck to the net on the power play,” said Wennberg, who played six years with the Blue Jackets. “I don’t know if (the goal) was perfect but it worked out. The power play is the key to these games. So, to get rewarded with a goal is big for us.”
“(Wennberg) does a good job (in front of the net),” Hakstol said. “He can move from net front to goal line and see a play and make a play. You saw how quick he went from goal line, all in one motion. That’s a really skilled play to be able to number one, get that puck to the top of the blue paint, and then, he found a hole and it’s nice to have that element.”
The Blue Jackets had an opportunity to tie the game with four minutes remaining. Johnny Gaudreau, the Blue Jackets big off-season acquisition, hit the crossbar. Kraken goalkeeper Philipp Grubauer then swatted Gaudreau’s rebound shot away.
Columbus pulled Merzilikens with two minutes remaining (insert your `Elvis has left the building’ joke here) but the Kraken would score the final goal. Brandon Tanev notched his fifth empty-netter of the year as he’s usually on the ice in those situations. Tanev trails only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Jake Geuntzel, who each have six empty net goals.
After a scoreless first period, the Blue Jackets would open the scoring. With Seattle shorthanded due to a too many men on the ice penalty, Patrick Laine fired home his 18th goal of the season. That ended a Kraken streak of 21 successful penalty kills spread out over 8 ½ games.
However, the Kraken would again show their resiliency. On a Kraken power play, McCann took a cross ice pass from Oliver Bjorkstrand, another former Blue Jacket, and fired home his 30th goal of the season from the left circle. It seems like most of McCann’s goals lately have come from the top of the left circle.
(McCann) is playing really hard,” said Hakstol. “Everything in his game is continuing to grow. You watch the confidence and the pace that he’s playing with, up and down the rink. That’s really adding to our group and to our team.”
The Kraken would take their first lead less than a minute later at 14:08. After Wennberg cleared the puck out of the Seattle defensive zone, McCann and Jordan Eberle came up the ice on a two-on-two. Eberle sent a lead pass to McCann but his shot was kicked out by Merzilikens. But Eberle was in position to send home the rebound. The goal accounted for Eberle’s 50th point of the season. Eberle has assisted on 19 of McCann’s 30 goals.
After playing three games against teams that are currently out of the playoffs, the Kraken finish their road trip on Sunday when they face the defending Stanley Cup champion, Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are currently in third place in the Central Division with a 34-20-5 record.
- The NHL trade deadline passed yesterday. Seattle GM Ron Francis said earlier in the week that the Kraken wouldn’t make any major moves. One reason the Kraken weren’t busy at the trade deadline- virtually all of their forwards are signed beyond this year. The Kraken do have have two defensemen, Vince Dunn and Carson Soucy, who could become free agents this summer. But often players who are moved at the trade deadline are players who are nearing the end of their contracts. Seattle’s always made it clear they weren’t interested in trading draft choices (past or future) for `rental’ players.
- As has become a tradition in the NHL, highlights of Oliver Bjorkstrand’s career with the Blue Jackets were shown on the scoreboard and he received a warm hand from the crowd. Bjorkstrand, who was acquired in an off-season trade for draft choices, had 28 goals for the Blue Jackets a year ago. Bjorkstrand left the game with about seven minutes remaining with a `lower body injury.’ The Kraken had no updates on his status after the game.
- Edmonton defeated Winnipeg last night, 6-3, and the Oilers and Kraken are tied for third place with 76 points. However, the Kraken are seeded higher because they have one more victory than Edmonton.
C- Patrick Laine (Adam Boqvist, Johnny Gaudreau) PPG 10:18. S- Jared McCann (Oliver Bjorkstrand, Vince Dunn) PPG 13:20. S- Jordan Eberle (McCann, Alex Wennberg) 14:08.
C- Boqvist (Laine, Erik Gudbranson) 4:53. S- Alex Wennberg (Eeli Tolvanen, Dunn) PPG 7:12. S- Brandon Tanev (unassisted) EN 19:12.
Shots on Goal- Seattle 35, Columbus 23.
Penalty Minutes- Seattle 8, Columbus 8.
Referees-Chris Rooney, Jake Brenk. Linesmen- Johnny Murray, Scott Cherrey
Three Stars- 1. Alex Wennberg, S. 2. Adam Boquist, C. 3. Jared McCann, S.