Kraken hit All-Star break in first place in Pacific after 3-1 win over Blue Jackets


SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – JANUARY 28: Eeli Tolvanen #20 of the Seattle Kraken congratulates Philipp Grubauer #31 after a victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Climate Pledge Arena on January 28, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Christopher M

Eeli Tolvanen recorded his eighth goal in 15 games with Seattle, Alex Wennberg scored in his 600th career NHL game, and the Kraken beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 on Saturday night to grab the solo lead in the Pacific Division.

Tolvanen scored for the third straight game and his third period tally provided needed insurance for the Kraken in the victory. Tolvanen picked up a deflected puck off the stick of Oliver Bjorkstrand and fired just under the glove of Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins to seal away with the victory.

“That was a goal scorer’s goal,” Hakstol said.

Tolvanen was picked up off waivers from the Nashville Predators in early December. After a couple weeks with Seattle as a healthy scratch, Tolvanen scored a goal in his first game against the Islanders and hasn’t looked back. He’s got 10 points total in 15 games in a Kraken uniform.

“I feel like the goal today, game changer,” Wennberg said of Tolvanen. “We got a little breathing room right there and he’s just that type of player. You give him one chance, he has that shot. So he’s been really good to this team and we really like having him.”

With the Vegas Golden Knights losing in overtime to the Islanders, and the Los Angeles Kings losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Kraken head into their All-Star break with a one-point lead in the division standings.

“We weren’t happy about last night,” Tolvanen said of the 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames. “It was the off day for everybody. And, you know, we had a focus that it’s the last game before the break and we have to finish the right way and that’s what we did.”

The Kings still play one more game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night before their break.

“That’s pretty much why we’re putting in all the work, all the hard effort behind it, to be on top,” Wennberg said. “And right now we’re doing a lot of great things. We’re scoring goals. We’re working on the special teams to be better, goaltending has been unreal. And I mean obviously right now we’ve been playing really well . A lot of hockey left and we just gotta keep coming back from the break and just playing the same way.”

Wennberg picked up his 10th goal of the year for Seattle against a Columbus team that drafted him in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Wennberg played in 415 career games for the Blue Jackets from 2014 to 2020.

Morgan Geekie also added his fifth goal of the year and first since November 3. A give-and-go with Brandon Tanev came back to Geekie, who snapped a wrist shot by the stick side of Merzlikins to make it a 1-0 game.

Geekie had scored four goals in five games for Seattle from October 25 to November 3, but had gone without finding the back of the net in the 29 games since. It was his fifth goal of the season.

“I’ve had chances,” Geekie said. “It’s not really something I worry about. That’s not really my role here. You know, lots of guys score goals. And I know it’s not something I’m looked upon to do but, you know, mentally It was nice to see it go in for sure.”

Ryan Donato fought for a breakaway chance against Merzlikins in the second period and seemed to have beat him. However, Donato’s shot went off the left post, off Merzlikins, and then was cleared off the goal line by Andrew Peeke to keep it a one-goal game for the time being.

Wennberg then did manage to extend the Kraken advantage minutes later. Jordan Eberle fed Wennberg a pass unguarded between the circles and defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Tim Berni in front of the net as he scored to make it a 2-0 game.

With Tanev in the penalty box for slashing, Merzlikins made a great save on Jared McCann off a two-on-one short-handed breakaway chance and Grubauer answered at the other end with a big glove save on Johnny Gaudreau as well.

Columbus finally broke through with 1:10 left in the period. A neutral zone turnover by Seattle led to a two-on-one chance with Kent Johnson – a college teammate of Matty Beniers at the University of Michigan – finishing a pass from Jack Roslovic to make it a 2-1 game.

The Blue Jackets did mount a press in the third period with 12 shots on Grubauer, who finished the night with 24 saves on 25 shots. A glove save on Johnny Gaudreau was one of the highlight saves of the evening for Grubauer.

“His performance tonight is a little bit undercover,” Hakstol said.. “If you look at that second period and the quality opportunities that Columbus had in the second period, that was the key point for me for our goaltender. He did a great job during the second period, as much time as we spent in our zone in the third we really didn’t give up that much. We had to make a couple of saves that were really important. But the second period was a critical time of the game that he was there for his teammates.”

Grubauer’s play kept the third period fairly quiet for Seattle. Tolvanen’s goal with 14:21 left to play effectively put an end to the contest. Patrik Laine hit a post late for Columbus and an empty net try for Yanni Gourde in the closing seconds also caught the post as the final remained at 3-1.

“This has been a hell of a month,” said Hakstol, as Seattle went 11-3-1 in a difficult stretch of games in January. “When you look at the number of miles we’ve traveled, the competitive games that we’ve been in, the group’s done a good job finding success, but you know we need a little break.

“The fatigue in this room is born from a lot of hard work and the guys did a great job coming through that. You know, as a group to go through the road trip and then be able to come home and reset and still find success . … it’s pretty good. This group should be proud of that.”