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Devils, Kraken on mission to build momentum for 2022-23

Sportsnaut
Oct 19, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils center Dawson Mercer (18) plays the puck away from Seattle Kraken left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) during the third period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

While the first season for the Seattle Kraken is going similarly to many expansion teams before them, the New Jersey Devils are two weeks away from concluding a season they anticipated would unfold much differently.

Two teams playing out the string with an eye towards next season will get together Saturday night when the Kraken host the Devils.

Other than the Vegas Golden Knights making a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 during their initial campaign, most first-year teams struggle — and Seattle’s showing as the NHL’s 32nd team is on par with the 1992-93 Tampa Bay Lightning (53 points) but better than the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators (24 points) and 1991-92 San Jose Sharks (39).

Seattle (23-44-6, 52 points) is 6-7-0 over its past 13 games since a 1-9-2 skid from Feb. 14-March 10. The Kraken have done well against fellow non-contenders in this stretch, with wins over the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks.

Seattle is playing for the first time since getting swept in a home-and-home set with the Calgary Flames. The Kraken dropped a 4-1 decision to the Flames on April 9 and then absorbed a 5-3 loss Tuesday in Calgary, when they blew a two-goal lead by allowing four goals in the third period, including two on the power play.

Like many non-contending teams, the Kraken are getting a look at some recent signings from college. Matty Beniers tallied an assist in his NHL debut a day after signing with Seattle following his two-year career with Michigan.

“His hockey sense and his ability to know and understand what’s around him on the ice showed to be excellent tonight,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said of the second overall pick in last year’s draft. “Most importantly, I thought he just really showed good poise throughout the entire day, on the ice, off the ice.”

New Jersey (26-42-6, 58 points) was not necessarily projected to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2018, but it was expected to be closer in the race. Instead, the Devils own the third-worst point total in the Eastern Conference in a season that has been derailed by injuries to key players such as Jack Hughes.

Hughes scored 26 goals but has only appeared in 49 games due to a pair of injuries. He is out for the rest of season with a left knee injury after being checked by Oliver Wahlstrom of the New York Islanders on April 3. Hughes also missed over a month with a shoulder injury when he was checked by Seattle defenseman Jeremy Lauzon on Oct. 19.

New Jersey has gone 2-3-0 since Hughes was lost for the season and is 2-1-0 on a five-game road trip that ends with Monday’s visit to the Golden Knights.

The Devils opened the trip with a dramatic 3-1-win last Saturday over the Dallas Stars and a 6-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday but dropped a 3-1 decision to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. Jesper Bratt scored midway through the third period — but only after New Jersey trailed by three goals.

“We stepped up in the third period and we played harder,” Bratt said. “When we play a fast-paced game and don’t turn pucks over on the blue line and get them deep we create some scoring chances.”

–Field Level Media