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I Watched This Preseason Game: Rathbone excels even as Kraken topple the Canucks

A young Canucks lineup was mostly resilient against an NHL-caliber Kraken squad.
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None of the above players were in the lineup for the Canucks when I watched this game.

On Sunday night in Spokane, WA, the Seattle Kraken made their preseason debut with a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks. 

Of course, since it’s the preseason, the result doesn’t really matter. Even if the broadcast kept talking about everything that occurred as if it was some sort of historic occasion, it really wasn’t.

Years from now — heck, weeks from now — no one’s going to remember that Riley Sheahan scored the first preseason goal in Kraken history. No, that will quickly be replaced by whoever scores the first actual goal in Kraken history. Nor will this be recorded as the first win in Kraken history. That’s just silly.

In fact, the NHL didn’t even track any statistics in this game. I don’t just mean shots on goal or anything like that: the NHL doesn’t even have a boxscore for this game with who scored. 

That’s okay. In the preseason, wins and losses are unimportant. What coaches are looking for is the process — execution on the details they’ve been drilling into their players during training camp. They want to see players going to the right spot on the ice on the breakout, connecting on those short passes that transition up the ice, taking the right paths defensively to force opposing players to the outside, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

These are all the things you tell yourself after your team loses in the preseason.

At this level, hockey players never like to lose. Players in the NHL — or even on the verge of making the NHL — are driven and competitive. They hate to lose even in practice, let alone in a preseason game against another team. Yes, details and process and execution are what really matters but losing still feels bad.

“If you like getting scored on as a goalie, there’s something wrong,” said Mikey DiPietro during training camp and that can be extended to every other position. Forwards hate hitting the post in practice and defencemen seethe when a forward catches them flat-footed. It’s in their nature, or possibly nurture.

Even fans, as much as it’s easy to dismiss it as just a preseason game, likely would have preferred to see the Canucks win the game. Even a jaded journalist like me would have liked to see a win when I watched this game.

  • Fun fact: Canucks head coach Travis Green is one of the greatest players in Spokane Chiefs history. He’s third all-time in Spokane Chiefs scoring behind Ray Whitney and Pat Falloon, with 302 points in 258 games, so this game in Spokane was a return to his old stomping grounds.
     
  • “Spokane is a place where I have a lot of fond memories,” said Green. “I met a lot of great people here, a lot of people that helped me. Whenever I get a chance to come back, it’s always special, and it was nice to have fans in the building again.”
     
  • The Kraken iced a lineup that is fairly representative of how they’ll look during the regular season. The Canucks...did not. With that in mind, it’s neither surprising nor concerning that they lost. Also, it makes the strong performances from the Canucks look that much better and the weak performances that much more forgivable. 
     
  • “As a coach, anytime you see that you do get a little bit worried about it,” said Green about sending out a young lineup against the veteran Kraken. “I thought our young team hung in there and did some good things. I know we got out-shot, but I thought five-on-five, we defended hard in our own zone.”
     
  • The big test was on defence, where the three defencemen battling for the third spot on the left side — Jack Rathbone, Olli Juolebi, and Brad Hunt — were all in the lineup. It’s fair to say that Rathbone, with his goal, assist, and shootout goal, stood out just a little bit, as if he was skating around with a star around his feet like he was in NHL ‘94.
     
  • “I thought Rathbone was good tonight, he had a good game,” said Green. “I liked how active he was and strong.”
     
  • It was a bit of a shaky start for Rathbone, in all honesty. He had some issues with puck battles down low and took the first penalty of the game when he got beat and swung his stick into his opponent’s skates. And then he scored a goal directly out of the penalty box and looked ten times more confident the rest of the game, not just offensively, but defensively as well.
     
  • “Especially with the crowd and the atmosphere the way it was, I think [the goal] definitely helped me settle into my game a little bit,” said Rathbone. “Kind of keep your head inside the glass a little bit more.”
     
  • Rathbone’s 1-0 goal was a fortunate bounce, as Luke Schenn blocked a shot as the Kraken’s power play expired. Rathbone came out of the box like his name was Jack — uh, because it is — and fired a low shot under the blocker.
     
  • Rathbone set up the second goal on the power play, taking a low-to-high pass from Nic Petan, then faking a shot to draw in the defender before putting the puck on a tee for Brock Boeser. The one-timer from Boeser hit a body in front and bounced in like it had just installed a new hydraulic suspension.
     
  • “[Petan] did a really good job in terms of trying to draw one guy to him and then kick it back out to me and then I was able to hold onto it one extra second, draw a guy to me and then obviously trying to put it in Boes's wheelhouse,” said Rathbone. “I think he's got a pretty big wheelhouse.”
     
  • As for the other two competing with Rathbone, Juolevi looked sharp on the penalty kill, doing well to get in shooting and passing lanes, and he moved the puck well in the offensive zone at 5-on-5.  Defensively at 5-on-5, he had some issues, particularly against some of the speedier Kraken forwards. Hunt, meanwhile, had a quiet and effective game: he looks like the reliable veteran he was billed as.
     
  • Danila Klimovich was noticeable and got a chance to play on the power play as the net-front presence. Still, you can see the raw aspects of his game that need more time. Is it better for him to be in the QMJHL where he can dominate or is he ready for the AHL? I don’t know; I’m not sure the Canucks know yet either. 
     
  • Green called out Phil Di Giuseppe as someone who played well, noting that he was “reliable.” Green used him on the first penalty kill unit, which is notable because Di Giuseppe hasn’t played much PK in the NHL but will need to if he wants to make the team. Keep an eye on Di Giuseppe — my bet is he's on the fourth line come opening night.
     
  • Arturs Silovs may have given up three goals in two periods of action, but it was still a strong performance from the young Latvian netminder, who faced approximately 28 shots on goal. He tracked the puck well, sealed up holes in his stance, and showed that competitive nature to throw the goaltending rulebook out the window when he had to make a desperation save. He looked the part of a graduate from the Ian Clark school of goaltending.
     
  • It was a bit of a mixed bag for Will Lockwood. He used his speed to cover a ton of ice and threw his body around on the forecheck, but his execution on one particular breakout showed that he still needs some work on the finer details of his game. First, he let a defenceman pinch down the boards and beat him to one puck, then sent a soft pass to the middle of the ice on his second chance to get the puck out, leading to a turnover and a great save by Silovs.
  • Petan picked up his second assist of the game, sending the puck up to Kyle “Not Alex” Burroughs at the point, who made a nifty shift to open up a shooting lane. His high shot was tipped down and in by Nils Höglander and it might have been a high stick but no one cares because it’s the preseason.
     
  • The two teams wrapped up the game with a shootout despite the 5-3 win for the Kraken. It’s a good thing, because they clearly need the practice, with nine skaters failing to score until Rathbone put the puck in the net. It’s particularly sad for the Kraken, a s they couldn’t beat Spencer Martin, the Canucks’ fifth-string goaltender. 
     
  • Even Rathbone looked a little out of practice, nearly losing the puck at the last second. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind — and the skill — to still pull the puck to his forehand and sneak it just under the right pad of Kraken goaltender Chris Driedger. With that, history was made: Rathbone scored the first preseason shootout goal against the Seattle Kraken. Write that down. Heck, chisel it in stone. What an accomplishment.