The Seattle Kraken will become the NHL’s 32nd franchise when they open their season Tuesday on the road against the team that was the 31st to join the league, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Talk about setting the bar high for an expansion team.
Vegas won the Pacific Division by eight points in its first season — 2017-2018 — and advanced to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, where it lost to Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in five games.
Seattle coach Dave Hakstol isn’t making any proclamations of Stanley Cup or bust for his first-year team, which features a reigning Vezina Trophy finalist, Philipp Grubauer, and a strong defensive corps led by captain Mark Giordano.
“We’re competing to be a playoff team,” Hakstol told NHL Network. “That’s the first goal on our list. It’s a tough task to be a playoff team in the National Hockey League. That’s where our focus is at as we start Game 1.”
A top-four finish for Seattle figures to be a realistic goal in a Pacific Division that features the two-headed monster of the Golden Knights and the Connor McDavid-led Edmonton Oilers and five other teams — Calgary, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and Vancouver — all of which finished last season out of the playoffs with losing records.
The Kraken, who went 4-2-0 in the preseason and finished with a 4-0 victory over the Canucks on Oct. 5, will open the regular season with five road games in the span of eight days before their Oct. 23 home opener against Vancouver.
“We’re going into it eyes wide open,” Hakstol said of the trip, which also includes stops at Nashville and Columbus and ends with a back-to-back at Philadelphia and New Jersey. “Everybody knows how challenging it is to go on the road, five in a row on the road, in tough buildings, to start the regular season. That’s a heckuva challenge.”
First up is Tuesday night’s game with a veteran Vegas squad that went 40-14-2 last season. The Golden Knights, who finished 21-5-2 at home, defeated Minnesota and Colorado in playoff series before falling to the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the Stanley Cup semifinals.
Vegas has qualified for the playoffs in each of its four seasons but hasn’t returned to the Stanley Cup Final since its storybook first season.
The Golden Knights scored just 13 goals in their six games against Montreal in the semifinals, going 0-for-15 on the power play.
Captain Mark Stone, who had 21 goals and 40 assists in 55 regular-season games, failed to register a point in the six games against Montreal.
“You go through these ups and downs and you learn,” Stone told NHL.com. “I think our team, not just personally, but as a team, is going to learn from all this stuff. … Everybody’s kind of learning how to handle that pressure and find a way to get over that hump.”
Vegas will have to get over that hump without reigning Vezina Trophy winner and face-of-the-franchise Marc-Andre Fleury, who was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks to clear up some much-needed salary cap space.
Outspoken Robin Lehner, who teamed with Fleury to win the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed, takes over the No. 1 spot.
Vegas, which struggled with interior scoring during the physical play of the playoffs, also acquired forward Evgenii Dadonov in a trade with Ottawa and center Nolan Patrick in a three-team deal while sending popular enforcer Ryan Reaves to the New York Rangers.
The Golden Knights announced Monday that forward Mattias Janmark will be unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols while forward William Carrier (concussion) and centers Nicolas Roy and Brett Howden also are sidelined with injuries.
Seattle, which claimed center Alex Barre-Boulet off waivers from Tampa Bay on Monday, announced that five players were in COVID-19 protocol: defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, right winger Joonas Donskoi, and centers Marcus Johansson, Calle Jarnkrok and Jared McCann.
Center Yanni Gourde (shoulder) said he would not play in the opener.
–Field Level Media