The Seattle Kraken took advantage of Buffalo’s poor play and handed the Sabres a dispiriting loss at home.
Despite a rough start to the season, Seattle seems to be finding their game of late. The Kraken are 3-1 in their last four games, outscoring the opposition 11 to 7. They have beaten teams that have towards the top of the NHL’s standings as well, earning victories over Florida, Carolina, and Washington.
The Sabres, on the other hand, seem to be cooling after an unexpectedly hot start. They have lost three of their last four games by a combined score of 16 to 11. They looked to turn their fortunes around at home on Hockey Fights Cancer night.
Right from puck drop, it was evident that Seattle wanted the win more. They played hard, capitalized on Buffalo’s (many) mistakes, and came away with the 7-4 victory.
The Sabres seemed to not get the memo the game started. Despite an early power play, it would be the Kraken who capitalize. Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin leisurely attempted to retrieve a puck from his own zone seconds into the power play. It’s unclear if he expected the pursuit to tail off or not, but Seattle’s Yanni Gourde closed in and stripped Dahlin of the puck. Gourde passed to the point, and defenseman Carson Soucy wired a slap shot past Tokarski for a shorthanded goal. Soucy’s goal was actually the first shorthanded marker in Seattle Kraken history.
Seattle would add another goal on Buffalo’s next power play, and it would be another Dahlin miscue. Dahlin had the puck at the offensive blueline and tried to flip it to a teammate while under pressure. Seattle’s Brandon Tanev knocked the puck out of the air and rushed the other way. Tanev fought off Dahlin, who eventually stopped skating and essentially wrapped up on Tanev, and got a shot on net. Tanev then corralled his own rebound and buried it into an open net for Seattle’s second short-handed goal in franchise history.
The Kraken would add one more goal in the first, and it was the result of some more poor Buffalo play. Following some extended zone time, Seattle’s Morgan Geekie would retrieve the puck along the half-wall and pass to Jamie Oleksiak at the point. Oleksiak would put a slap shot towards the net, hitting the boards behind it. Jared McCann, standing all alone at the side of the net, had time to control the bounce, settle the puck, and snap it home past a yet-again helpless Dustin Tokarski. This last sequence happened while three Sabres defenders looked on from the slot, covering no one in particular.
The period ended, and the Sabres were booed off the ice at home.
The Sabres came out for the second period looking to claw back into the game. And the comeback attempt started with a goal from recent call-up Brett Murray.
Less than two minutes into the period, Kyle Okposo carried the puck into Seattle’s zone and cut to the middle of the ice. Linemates Murray and Dylan Cozens continued to drive towards the net, taking Seattle defenders with them. Okposo put a shot towards the net, which bounced off the boards and ended up in front. Murray, who had smartly stopped in front of the net, controlled the rebound and put it home for his first NHL goal. It was a great, smart play by Murray (who I will talk more about in the breakdown). But it has to be said that Yanni Gourde was at the back post and essentially watched the goal happen. It was one of the few glaring mistakes that a Kraken player made on the night.
More Defensive Lapses
The momentum for the Sabre would be short-lived.
Morgan Geekie would win a puck battle against Henri Jokiharju (who also had a tough night) in the corner. Geekie would center the puck to Jared McCann, who walked through the slot untouched and notched his second goal of the game.
This seemed to wake the Sabres up, and they would start to play with urgency.
After a series of great, hard-working shifts, Brett Murray drew a hooking penalty from Adam Larsson. On the ensuing power play (which had become a liability thus far in the game), Buffalo would find paydirt. After some nice possession from Buffalo’s first PP unit, Tage Thompson put a strong one-timer towards the net. Though he missed, the bounce from the boards went right to Jeff Skinner. His attempt to play the puck out front was kicked into the net by goalie Chris Driedger, and Seattle’s lead was down to two.
This momentum for Buffalo, once again, would not last.
Less than 40 seconds later, Seattle’s Mason Appleton would push the puck towards Buffalo’s goal following a strange net-front scramble. The puck would take a weird bounce past a sprawling Dustin Tokarski, and the Kraken’s three-goal lead was restored.
Despite a strong (half) period, Buffalo went to the locker room still trailing by three.
The Sabres would once again come out strong and score early.
Victor Olofsson would snare a Seattle breakout pass with a smartly-placed stick check. He fired a heavy shot on goal, and Jeff Skinner was there to bury the rebound for his second goal of the game.
Buffalo would keep the puck in Seattle’s zone for most of the period, but could not close the deficit further. The Sabres would control possession but ultimately did not challenge Driedger.
Late in the period, the Kraken would once again restore their three-goal lead. They would get a contested two on one, and Yanni Gourde would feed Jaden Schwartz for his fifth goal of the season.
Credit to Buffalo for continuing to push, and with less than two minutes left Dylan Cozens would tip a Kyle Okposo shot past Driedger to once again pull within two.
Despite another good push from the Sabres, Mason Appleton would put the puck into the open net and Seattle would carry the three-goal lead to the end.
It was not a pretty game by any means from the Kraken. They ended up getting outshot and played in their own zone for much of the second half of the game. But it was evident they were prepared to put in the effort to win. They played the Sabres hard and capitalized on Buffalo’s mistakes.
The Kraken were also fantastic on the penalty kill. They turned the Sabres’ powerplay into a disadvantage, scoring two short-handed goals and staying aggressive. Though the Sabres were eventually able to find their footing and control the puck, Seattle limited Buffalo’s high-danger chances. They did allow one power-play goal but on the whole, Seattle felt more dangerous when shorthanded.
One player I noticed pretty consistently was Vince Dunn. He was able to jump-start the break-out all game. He did this not only with smart passes, but he also used his skating to carry the puck out of danger and open up passing lanes. This is what’s expected out of a defenseman in 2021, and Dunn delivered.
Woo boy, where do I start.
Though the whole team played poorly, especially in the defensive zone, Rasmus Dahlin was awful. He made several frustratingly bad decisions with the puck, at least two of which ended up in the back of his own net. Beyond that, there were several occasions where he just seemed to not put in an NHL-level effort. On the first Seattle goal, I have to believe that he thought Gourde would peel off and not pursue him down low. Because otherwise, he just stopped playing and allowed Gourde to strip him of the puck. On the second goal, while pursuing Tanev, he literally stopped skating and just hooked/held Tanev. This was going to result in a penalty if Tanev hadn’t scored. It’s obvious Dahlin is naturally talented. He is an elite-level skater and puck-handler, and will wow with a smart pass or unreal deke. But he needs to take a few steps back and solidify his decision-making, as well as his effort.
Back to the team as a whole. I do not know if it is a coaching issue or a personnel issue, but far too many times a Kraken player was left all alone to dust off a puck and score. It frankly appeared that the Sabres were puck watching at times. They would focus on the puck carrier and not find the open man. Don Granato and staff need to work on breaking this habit because this is not something that can happen at the NHL level.
There were some bright spots though.
In my coverage of Buffalo’s prospect tournament in the preseason, I highlighted Brett Murray as a player to watch. I liked his smart approach to the game, and how he consistently put himself in positions to score. He displayed that tonight in scoring his first NHL goal, as well as being a consistent worry for Seattle’s defense. He even drew a penalty that led to Jeff Skinner’s first goal of the night. I don’t know how long he will remain with the big club, but Brett Murray deserves every opportunity he gets.
Though he only finished with one assist, Tage Thompson continued his strong play. He consistently drove offense, and his strong shot and great hands make him a consistent offensive threat. Further, the line of Tage Thompson centering Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson continues to be Buffalo’s most dangerous. They seemed to generate offense whenever they were on the ice, though they tend to struggle in their defensive zone.
And finally, Kyle Okposo continued his strong season with yet another solid performance. He is tenacious on the forecheck, applying pressure and creating opportunities for his linemates. What’s more, with the puck he is consistently dangerous, cutting to the middle of the ice and putting smart shots on the net that can either beat the goaltender outright or be tipped by a teammate. Though the contract is still a tough one, Okposo is definitely proving his worth.