Red-hot Kraken are surging on offense — who and what’s behind it

Jan 10, 2023, 10:04 AM | Updated: Feb 5, 2023, 3:36 pm

Kraken Canadiens...

Daniel Sprong celebrates with Kraken teammates after scoring a goal against Montreal on Jan. 9, 2023. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

The numbers are fun to look at for the Kraken these days.

Jones’ shutout leads Kraken past Montreal 4-0 for fifth straight win

Starting a daunting seven-game road trip where they would play good teams, things looked to be on thin ice. But that hasn’t been the case and Seattle has started the trip by winning the first four, part of a five-game win streak overall. And they’ve been scoring goals.

Over their five straight wins, the Kraken have outscored their opponents 26-8, and they’ve done so relying on their depth as nobody in the five games has scored twice in a game. They are getting scoring from up and down the lineup.

“I think the strength of this group is in the depth that we have,” forward Jordan Eberle said after an 8-4 win Saturday in Ottawa. “Not just on the forwards side but on the defense, goalies, and you see teams that have four lines and six D that can contribute and are dangerous. In my opinion, a lot of teams that go deep in the playoffs are because of that.”

Seattle has scored goals before, and its three games with eight goals this year is the most in an NHL season since the 2011-2012 Pittsburgh Penguins, who did it four times.

So why is the scoring different this time? This time the scoring is being driven by good defensive play.

Kraken creating offense by defense

Prior to winning five straight, the Kraken lost two home games against division rivals, Calgary and Edmonton. It was the latter game, against the Oilers, that was the most impactful.

Edmonton crushed Seattle 7-2 on Dec. 30, with the Kraken putting up little fight. The Oilers scored three goals in the first four minutes of the game, chasing starter Philipp Grubauer in the first period, and barely had to break a sweat.

The next day at practice the Kraken used phrases like “embarrassing,” “getting our teeth kicked in,” and “getting our noses rubbed in it.” It was the next day but the game was still fresh in everyone’s mind. In the dressing room that night, coach Dave Hakstol was frustrated and said his team tried to “score their way” to victory and had abandoned their defensive system.

He elaborated after the next day’s practice.

“We found some success that way over the past six weeks,” he said. “There are some games where we got away with it, for lack of a better term. We were able to offensively get ourselves through games and come away with two points and that’s just not reality. Our last two games (the losses to Calgary and Edmonton) are really good examples, right? These are games in the middle of the year that have playoff implications. There is no way to skill your way to two points. Our group is a workman-like group. We’re a lunch pail group and we’re a real good hockey team when we have that approach for 60 minutes.”

The next night at home against the New York Islanders, the lunch pails were out and the team started playing with more structure defensively, which led to offense in a 4-1 win. After that game, the Islanders’ players talked about how the Kraken smothered them and “came at us in waves,” as Mat Barzal said.

That focus on the structure, defense first, and lunch pail mentality has been the constant in the wins since.

Seattle has scored goals during the win streak but they are giving up next to nothing, which hit a high point Monday night in a 4-0 shutout against Montreal.

“We’re just playing really fast and we’re kind of smothering teams,” said goalie Martin Jones, who recorded his second shutout of the season. “We’re not giving them a lot of time and space. We’re checking hard and it’s resulting in a lot of O-zone time for us.”

That, in a nutshell, is the system the Kraken want to play. And for five games, they’ve been executing perfectly. A strong forecheck and good neutral zone play is providing Seattle with more time on the puck, and therefore more shots and goals.

Dunn and Tovlanen red hot

The Kraken have been red hot. Matty Beniers has scored a goal in four straight and Jared McCann has three goals in four games, but defenseman Vince Dunn and forward Eeli Tolvanen have especially been scorching.

Dunn has goals in three straight and 10 points in his last six games. He’s scored seven goals, matching his total for last season, and leads Kraken defensemen in scoring with 28 points. Matched with Adam Larsson, the two are the top pairing for Seattle and giving the Kraken great play at both ends of the ice. The 25-year-old Dunn is on pace for his best NHL season to date and Seattle appears to have a blue-liner who is just entering his prime.

There has been great chemistry between Dunn and Tolvanen, as well.

After being claimed off waivers from the Nashville Predators on Dec. 12, Tolvanen sat and practiced a while before finally getting playing time on Jan. 1 during the win against the Islanders. In his five games, the forward has scored three goals while adding two assists.

Setting up all three goals? Dunn.

That may be somewhat fluky, but Dunn says he told Tolvanen to shoot right away whenever he passed him the puck. It’s working.

Tolvanen is a former first-round draft pick of the Predators who was put on waivers due to some team injury issues and salary cap problems Nashville was in. He somehow fell to the Kraken, who had room for him under the salary cap and wasted no time in snatching him up.

He has the reputation for an offense-first type of player with a great shot but so far is showing that he can play a full 200-foot game and is fitting in with the lunch pail mentality that Hakstol wants. Tolvanen could end up as a key acquisition by season’s end.

With the hot streak, the Kraken have improved to 23-12-4 and have made up ground on the two teams (Los Angeles and Vegas) ahead of them in the Pacific Division standings. They won’t go undefeated the rest of the way, but if they stick with their system, they’ll be in every game.

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Red-hot Kraken are surging on offense — who and what’s behind it