WYMAN AND BOB

Kraken Takeaways: Is this win streak the start of a run back to playoffs?

Jan 4, 2024, 1:24 PM | Updated: 1:25 pm

Seattle Kraken Eeli Tolvanen...

Eeli Tolvanen of the Seattle Kraken celebrates his goal against Vegas in the 2024 NHL Winter Classic. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken have put their slow start to the 2023-24 campaign behind them, as they’re now one of the NHL’s hottest teams with a considerable amount of momentum in the right direction.

Daccord records historic shutout, Seattle Kraken beat Vegas in Winter Classic

The Kraken have won five in row, the latest coming outdoors Monday at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park as goaltender Joey Daccord led the way in a 3-0 win over the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights for the first shutout in NHL Winter Classic history. That’s tied for the second-best current win streak in the league, behind only the Pacific Division rival Edmonton Oilers’ six-game streak. Seattle also has earned at least one standings point in each of its past nine games.

With 39 points in the standings entering Thursday, the Kraken (15-14-9) are tied with Edmonton for fourth in the division and ninth in the Western Conference, which is the first spot out of the playoff picture. But there’s still a lot of hockey to play – 44 games to be exact, starting with Thursday night’s home game against the Ottawa Senators – and the Kraken appear to be in good shape both because they’re playing well and getting close to full strength. Key forward Andre Burakovsky recently returned from injury, and Jaden Schwartz is expected back from his own injury at any moment.

We got the latest on the team from John Forslund, a longtime NHL announcer and the voice of the Kraken on ROOT Sports, during Wednesday’s edition of Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob. Here are a few of the more notable observations he shared.

Why are the Kraken playing better now?

The easy answer to that question could be the emergence of 27-year-old goaltender Joey Daccord, who is sixth in the NHL in goals-against average at 2.35 and hasn’t allowed more than three goals in regulation in nine straight starts (dating all the way back to November).

To Forslund, there’s more to the current surge by Seattle than just that.

I think (Daccord) is the prime reason (for the Kraken’s five-game win streak), but I also think they’re organized better on the ice, organized in terms of their positioning. You know what I saw the front end of the season, I think hidden among the poor play was the fact that the goaltending really wasn’t an issue. It was OK, at times it was really good. If you look at some of the games they played through October and early November, games that they would go to overtime and lose, go to shootout and lose, they were grinding away and then there were some injuries that kind of played into it. This team can’t afford much of that, hopefully that stops. They’ve had their share of injuries, and it looks like Jaden Schwartz, who was playing his best hockey at the end of November when he was injured, might return (Thursday). Andre Burakovsky’s come back, and when you get all of those names back in place, that gives them 12 forwards, which they need. They don’t have game-breakers, they don’t have elite talent – that (one player like) Jack Eichel from the Vegas Golden Knights, just to pick out one guy that’s going to game-break and break it open for you. They have good players who can score and grind, but they don’t have that. So what I see is they’re more organized in terms of their play through the middle, like I said before, and in the defensive zone. In the right spots defensively leads to picking up pucks, winning battles and then breaking out better, and so they’re doing that. And in large part, they’re getting back to what we saw last season. And if they can get there, if they can continue this run and prove that this is not just a little bit of a surge for the right reasons, they’re going to have to remain consistent with it, they’re going to be tough to play against. And they’ll make the playoffs if they continue like this.

 

What is the identity of a successful Seattle Kraken team

Forslund was able to call the Winter Classic right on the ice for the national Sports USA Live radio broadcast, so he got a look up close at what led the Kraken to the win over Vegas. For someone who called the team’s first ever run to the playoffs last season, it looked familiar to Forslund.

Looking at the game at ice level, you could see how difficult it was for Vegas to get through the middle of the ice through the neutral zone. That likens to the line of scrimmage (in football) – between the two blue lines in hockey, if you’re new to the game. That’s where a team can can shut you down, that’s where a team can feast on turnovers and counter-attack and go the other way and get great chances. That is the bread and butter of the Kraken, with balance. When they’re on to their identity as we saw last season, it’s four lines that do the same thing all the time, and the D do what they need to do. They defended well through the middle in that game. They defended very well in front of Daccord, who did his thing – when he was asked to make big saves, he did. And the goaltending has been very good, he in particular. But it was one-and-done for Vegas, they were not getting second and third opportunities because the checking was so good. They’re where they’re supposed to be, they’re above the puck, they’re on their men, they’re marking their defensive assignments and seeing it through. And that’s been a change – that’s been a change that happened around the middle of December. This whole thing has come together at the right time because the Kraken were on fumes. It looked like it was going to be bleak, it looked like (it was going to be) a bleak second half. Now they position themselves to be relevant again, to push hard in the second half, to be better at home. These are things they’re going to have to do to make the playoffs, and they’re going to have to continue to get strong goalkeeping. And it’s not only going to be Daccord – when Philipp Grubauer returns from injury, he’s going to have to provide a 1-2 punch at that position because they’re going to need it.

 

The “heartbeat” of the Seattle Kraken

Asked by co-host Dave Wyman who fit that term, Forslund picked both a player and the line he plays on.

They have a collection of guys, but I always go to Yanni Gourde myself. They have a collection of guys who have a ton of experience – you know, that’s why it wasn’t even worried about the first kick at it in the playoffs (last season), because the roster is laden with guys who have played deep and have won the thing, so they know how to do it. But Yanni Gourde has been a constant because he never quits. He scored a huge goal to make it 3-0 in the Winter Classic; it was his first goal in 17 games. I see him self-persecute himself every day at practice, how early he comes out, how late he stays out – it’s almost frustrating to watch. But he’s kind of willed himself into that position, but his game, his defensive game and the way he gets out there and stirs it up and gets a little bit of the emotional tide on the side of the Kraken, that has high value. And that line with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Eeli Tolvanen, since Tolvanen was first put in the lineup, which was New Year’s Day last year, it hasn’t changed. Hakstol has changed a lot of the pieces, some of it because of injury and some of it because of below-bar play, but not that line. And that’s the line that checks the top players at home – you know, the home coach gets the last change so Dave Hakstol makes sure that that line gets out there. And that was their assignment in the Winter Classic, so they not only have to score a little but they have to defend a lot. And so he makes it happen, and I love to watch him play. He’s relentless and he’s a winner. That’s my guy.

 

How was the Winter Classic?

Forslund has been a part of many great outdoor games that have been played in the NHL, and he said calling the Centennial Classic in Toronto in 2017 was a personal highlight. So what was it like seeing the league’s annual New Year’s Day tradition come to Seattle?

It blew me away. … This one here is personal – it’s personal for all of us, and because we’re only in the third year of this, to see the Kraken go from the launch to the first year, which was difficult, to the second year, which was spectacular, and two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the market got their appetite whetted by the playoffs for the first time, and then you get to Year 3 and there’s this event. And this is a standalone event, it’s the only game that day, it’s a global event, everyone looks at this in the hockey world, the entire hockey world is here, all the national media is here and they’re here to take a look at what the market has to offer. And I think it was a home run across the board, led by the fans, who were spectacular, and the venue. T-Mobile Park was a great place for it. Just the way it looks, it’s 25 years old but it still has a newness attached to it. I think the sight lines were basically really good for this event, which is difficult when you plop a 200-by-85 frozen pond in the middle of the infield. It’s hard to pull off, right? But I think it was great. And it kind of linked the culture of our community together … You had all these different things attached to Seattle, which are a big part of what this market is all about.

… It was unbelievable to be down there to feel the noise, to feel the fans. When Tolvanen scored the first goal, it was off the charts. It was loud. … A game I did in Nashville a couple of years ago, a Stadium Series game in the football stadium didn’t even come close. I think it’s the configuration of the ballpark coupled with what the fans deliver in this city. I think all of that kind of pushed it in the right place, and I think the fans knew this was their opportunity to show out, too. This was their opportunity to show everyone what the ‘Kraken Nation’ is all about, if you will. And I think that’s why it became such a spectacular event.

Listen to the full Wyman and Bob conversation with Seattle Kraken play-by-play announcer John Forslund in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

Photos and video: Seattle Kraken win NHL Winter Classic at T-Mobile Park

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