It’s not at the point where the Seattle Kraken need to hand out “hello, my name is” stickers on a trip through California, but significant change perhaps met opportunity for team building at the right time.
With three days off in the rear view mirror near the Southern California coast, the Seattle Kraken will visit downtown Los Angeles for the first time and take on the host Kings, 7:30pm PT (93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network) at Crypto.com Arena, a newly rebranded venue originally opening in 1999 and the host to two Stanley Cup titles.
New faces acquired at the trade deadline, when six former members of the Kraken found new teams, are on the cusp of possibly making their debut in a Seattle jersey. Forward Victor Rask, acquired from the Minnesota Wild, is expected to suit up while defenseman Derrick Pouliot, claimed off waivers from the Vegas Golden Knights, reportedly took line rushes at morning skate with Will Borgen as a defensive partner.
“I’m here to show I can be a good player, an effective player and I belong in this league,” said Rask.
A forward gifted with offensive touch and a cerebral approach who by his own admission said he could “add a little more grit, maybe,” Rask has a past connection with Kraken general manager Ron Francis, who was with the Carolina Hurricanes front office when Rask was drafted in the second round by Carolina in 2011.
Rask had a career high 21 goals and 48 points with the Hurricanes in 2015-16, then dealt to Minnesota for Nino Niederreiter one season after Francis departed the organization at the end of 2017-18.
“He’s going to need to bring some versatility,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. “He’s mostly payed center throughout his career. We’re going to ask him to play on the wall and get him up the middle.”
“He has good ability – smart player with good puck skills.”
Spots for Rask and Pouliot in the lineup became more necessary with the loss of forward Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Haydn Fleury, who both played in Tuesday’s win at Arizona but have been ruled out with upper body ailments, currently day-to-day.
Philipp Grubauer will start in net for the Kraken.
The Kraken will aim to even the four-game season series with the Kings tonight. Los Angeles took the first meeting, 3-1 in Seattle on Jan. 15 when the Kraken were stifled by the Kings "aggressive" 1-3-1 set up, limited to 18 shots which was one off their season low. Despite the final shot total, Hakstol said the Kraken got through it last meeting, and acknowledged a need for a collective five-man effort.
“They’re good at it, they’re committed to it, they’re effective,” said Hakstol. “You have to make sure five guys attacking are on one page and know what the plan is to get to it.”
Part of the plan?
“Don’t be looking at it often, and get the puck going quick.”
The Kings have the inside track to their first playoff berth in four seasons, and first since Todd McLellan took over as head coach two seasons ago. Adrian Kempe leads the Kings with 29 goals while Anze Kopitar, age 34 and in his 16th NHL season, is on pace for his best offensive output in four years while leading the Kings with 55 points.
Their core of Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick has remained intact but Doughty will miss tonight’s game, sidelined with a lower body ailment that reportedly has jeopardized his return this season.
That issue called for a move to trade for defenseman Troy Stecher from the Detroit Red Wings at the deadline for a seventh round draft pick, a transaction that McLellan said delivers necessary ingredients for the stretch drive.
“Troy’s a competitive player,” said McLellan. “He battles, move pucks well, gives us a veteran presence right now when we’ve got so many young players in the lineup.”
The Kings, second place in the Pacific Division at 35-22-9, trail first place Calgary by seven points.