It is so great to have hockey back, isn’t it?!
After getting over the strange sight that was a full lineup of NHL starters in a preseason game, I was taken aback by how “real” it was to watch the Kraken play. You know how it is whenever you’ve waited months for something, whether it was a birthday, Christmas or maybe even a long awaited movie premiere, the day finally comes and it doesn’t feel real. All the butterflies of anxiety and excitement; your mind racing as it thinks of all the possibilities… and yet, when the puck dropped, I was just watching another hockey game. The sweaters were new, sure (they looked great by the way) but the Seattle Kraken looked like they belonged in an NHL game. It was natural to watch them compete and I think that speaks to the players’ professionalism and the team’s handling of what has been a roller coaster few months. It was all leading to this and they were ready for it.
The first 10 minutes of the game drove home the fact that Seattle is playing this preseason with a stacked deck of sorts. With only three days of real practice time together, the NHL level skill, speed and confidence of the Kraken overwhelmed the younger, less experienced Canucks. Ryan Donato had an early shot that got through the 20-year-old Arturs Silovs who started in net for Vancouver that sent early shockwaves through the crowd, though it stopped just before crossing the line. The pressure continued as the game stayed near exclusively in the Canucks zone. The first goal of the night however, was one that was greeted with muted groans rather than raucous screams. Jack Rathbone stepped out of the box after his first period tripping penalty just as the puck was being cleared by the Canucks. Morgan Geekie made a diving attempt to stop the puck but was just too late as Rathbone walked in and snuck it under the arm of Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer. This was immediately followed by a Seattle Riley Sheahan penalty that the Canucks’ young sniper Brock Boeser took advantage of extending their lead to two. This was when the game settled into the more traditional back and forth that we see in the NHL with the period ending 2-0 Vancouver, but with the Kraken lurking as they took a little over a minute of power play time into the second frame.
Having started practicing special teams only earlier this morning, it didn’t come as a total surprise that the Kraken power play looked a little rough. A missed pass here, a player out of position there, the chemistry and feel for each other was clearly not all there for the Kraken and it kept them off the board as the Vancouver penalty expired early in the second period without a Seattle goal. The drought would not last long however. With linemates Brandon Tanev and Nathan Bastian working to free the puck behind the Canucks net, Riley Sheahan was able to get free in a good scoring position. Tanev was able to free the puck and sent it to Sheahan who was all alone in front of Silovs where he buried it for the first goal in Seattle Kraken history. This was the shot in the arm that got the Kraken going as they returned to their earlier form and piled on the scoring attempts. During one of their extended moments of offensive zone time, Ryan Donato drew a cross-checking penalty which sent the Kraken back to the power play, and this time, they would not be denied. Jared McCann was playing on the half boards when he took a pass from Dennis Cholowski at the point and ripped one past Silovs to tie the game at two. Not wanting the momentum to wane, the Kraken kept up the fast tempo and were able to draw another penalty. Ryan Donato (sensing a theme here?) rocketed one off the post from the right side before Jared McCann and Jordan Eberle cycled the puck back around to him seconds later where he made sure to find pay dirt. With their first lead, Seattle had the Spokane Arena rocking as Head Coach Dave Hakstol swapped goalies to get Chris Driedger some playing time. This, unfortunately, had the opposite effect however as it allowed Vancouver to rally with an equalizer of their own through traffic from the point moments later. After all the excitement (4 goals in ~15 minutes will do that), the second period finished relatively quietly as the teams left the ice tied at three.
Where the second period ended with a whimper, the third began with a bang. Morgan Geekie, who had been turning in a strong performance centering the second line, was the fortunate benefactor of a Canucks misplay for his first goal of the preseason. After a fight for a faceoff in the Vancouver zone, the puck scooted its way back toward new Canucks netminder Spencer Martin, where it was misplayed by a defenseman and tumbled in for the Seattle go ahead goal. This lit a fire under the Canucks who started their longest stretch of continuous pressure in the game. While it wasn’t always pretty, Kraken netminder Chris Driedger came away stopping everything Vancouver threw his way as Seattle recomposed themselves. This led to another power play opportunity for the Kraken where Morgan Geekie made sure to really earn his second goal of the night, ripping one from the point with only six seconds left in the man advantage. Down by two heading into the game’s final moments, Canucks coach Travis Green pulled Martin for the extra attacker with :40 seconds left. While the Kraken didn’t take advantage of the empty net, they took control of the puck and never let go as they coasted to what we hope will be the first of many wins. But, before the electric Spokane crowd could leave, both teams took part in a shootout for the fans. Ryan Donato missed the first attempt for Seattle, while Driedger stopped the first shot to come his way. Eberle tried to use speed to beat Spencer Martin, but the Canuck was up to the task. Brock Boeser let go of one of his deadly snap shots but again Driedger stood tall. The misses kept piling up for both teams until the 5th frame where Jack Rathbone of Vancouver bookended the night with a move that snuck the puck just under Driedger’s pads to end the shootout and the first night of Kraken hockey.