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Analysis: Who has stood out during Kraken’s positive preseason start?

Seattle's Alex Wennberg faces off against San Jose's Logan Couture at Climate Pledge Arena on April 29, 2022, in Seattle. The Kraken have gotten off to a fast preseason start behind the play of rookie Matty Beniers.  (Steph Chambers/Tribune News Service)
Seattle's Alex Wennberg faces off against San Jose's Logan Couture at Climate Pledge Arena on April 29, 2022, in Seattle. The Kraken have gotten off to a fast preseason start behind the play of rookie Matty Beniers. (Steph Chambers/Tribune News Service)
By Kate Shefte Seattle Times

Two games into the preseason schedule, the Kraken are undefeated and un-scored upon. An 82-0 finish is well within range, and Matty Beniers and Shane Wright should be 1-2 in Calder Trophy balloting as the NHL’s top rookie. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, OK, let’s all calm down and have a rational discussion between beat reporters Geoff Baker and Kate Shefte after what has undoubtedly been a positive start.

1. Who stood out most besides Beniers?

Baker: Aha! A trick question to avoid the easy answer. I’d say Brandon Tanev for his relentless work Monday night, especially setting up the short-handed goal by Morgan Geekie. As somebody who underwent five operations on my right knee — ACL and MCL — while still playing competitive sports, I know you can’t take for granted the physical and, more important, the psychological component of returning from such ordeals without hesitating just a bit.

Tanev had the team’s goal of the year while short-handed against Buffalo last season before tearing the ACL in his right knee, so it was great to see him back to old tricks in his first game action by leading the transitional 2-on-1 rush and feeding Geekie.

Shefte: As one might expect, No. 22 is often at the net front and the heart of the action. Offseason pickup Oliver Bjorkstrand made his presence felt out there, in camp and Monday’s game.

I don’t know how you don’t mention that stunner of a wraparound goal from Ryan Donato in the first preseason game, after he anticipated a lob to center ice from goaltender Joey Daccord. Vince Dunn has had a few impressive scoring plays in camp, then he took it around the boards and teed up Daniel Sprong on Tuesday for the Kraken’s first goal. I briefly forgot he was a defenseman. It’s the preseason for all of us.

2. Two shutouts in two games? Could this be a trend?

Shefte: The Kraken aren’t allowing a goal until November, mark it down. But honestly, if you were watching, you saw it — the Kraken slipped up.

Philipp Grubauer was on his back looking for a desperation save, Daccord broke up a rush with a poke check, Magnus Hellberg was scrambling for close-range rebounds. Mistakes will happen, but at least for now they’ve been minimized and the players have recovered.

All four goalies looked confident out there, but the competition will improve. The Flames and Oilers left many marquee names at home.

Baker: Yeah, the weak quality of opposition travel rosters helped. That said, Kraken regulars were at 67% or better in defensive zone faceoff wins Monday night and 50% or better Tuesday. Controlling the puck in your own end is key to getting it out, so winning faceoffs is a great start.

Of six periods played, they’ve been outshot in only two, and just one of them — 13-8 by Edmonton in second period Monday — was by a significant amount. So, if that continues, fewer goals against should follow.

3. Biggest surprise in the first two games?

Baker: Again, they weren’t facing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on Monday, or Elias Lindholm and Nazem Kadri on Tuesday, but killing off 10 consecutive penalties and emerging with a 2-0 goal differential during those disadvantages was unexpected. It helped that they allowed only eight shots during the 10 kills, including just three by Calgary on six power plays Tuesday.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Kraken somehow outshot the Flames by a 9-3 margin and outscored them 1-0 while down a man. Of course, Calgary did miss the net five times and had nine shots blocked during those power plays. Not sure that happens with Kadri, Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli or Jonathan Huberdeau in there, but the Kraken will take it.

Shefte: Much of the new firepower was in Monday’s group, and Tuesday’s game roster was made up of familiar names. They turned in similar performances and identical final scores. It’s too small of a sample size to draw any conclusions, but enough for an eyebrow raise from me.

4. What will you watch most in upcoming games?

Shefte: I’m looking forward to seeing how the power play comes together with new personnel. It’s still very cautious, very deliberate. Good zone entries and movement, but little traffic or creativity. Seattle hasn’t scored in nine preseason chances so far. It looks promising, but they need to get used to each other — it’s been only a week of playing in separate groups.

Baker: Like you, I’m particularly interested in how the power play progresses and whether Jaden Schwartz emerges on the top line for a bigger net-front presence to generate goals. Separate from that, if they start playing Yanni Gourde or Geekie on the wing for multiple games at even strength it’s a sign they’re seriously considering Wright at center to begin the season.

Most junior-level prospects are gone, so we’ll see truer outcomes — starting with an opposition goal or two — now that Kraken regulars will be facing stronger home-team rosters in three of the final four preseason games.

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