The Seattle Kraken will seek to snap a three-game losing streak and avenge a 5-1 defeat to the Florida Panthers on December 4th as they travel to FLA Live Arena on Sunday.
Florida's win ended a seven-game winning run for the Kraken who despite their recent struggles are 15-8-3 and second in the Pacific Division which they finished bottom of last season, their first in the NHL.
The two points on that night were crucial for the Panthers who find themselves in a fight for a playoff spot in the competitive Atlantic Division, currently sitting fifth with a 13-11-4 record.
Florida are -160 to be victorious again and Seattle +150.
What: Seattle Kraken @ Florida Panthers
Where: FLA Live Arena
When: 18:07 ET, Sunday, December 11th
How to watch: ESPN
Odds: Kraken +150, Panthers -160
The Panthers won the Presidents' Trophy as the team with the most outstanding regular season record (58-18-6, .744 points-per-game percentage) last season, which was their best as a franchise.
However, a sweep by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second-round of the playoffs saw General Manager Bill Zito make a couple of huge changes.
Interim coach Andrew Brunette was replaced by long-time Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice, and rugged forward Matthew Tkachuk was acquired from the Calgary Flames in exchange for top-scorer Jonathan Huberdeau and top-four defenceman MacKenzie Weegar.
While Tkachuk has instantly made himself at home and leads the Panthers for points with 37 (13 goals, 24 assists), the team overall have struggled for consistency at both ends of the ice with their points percentage dropping to .536.
The Panthers scored a league best 4.14 goals-per-game last season which has fallen to 3.39 (10th) and their 3.00 goals-against-average has risen to 3.29 (20th).
Their 4-4-2 last 10 form hasn't been helped by having five games in a row away from FLA Arena where they were a dominant 34-7-0 last season and 6-2-3 this season, but their home advantage might mean little against a Seattle team who are an excellent 8-2-1 on the road.
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The Kraken entered the NHL last season under unfair expectations after Vegas Golden Knights who did it four years earlier made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
That said, Seattle didn't expect to find themselves third worst in the league (27-46-6, .366 points-per-game percentage), and hampered by well-below-required goaltending all season long.
Matt Jones, acquired from the San Jose Sharks, has made a big impact in net going 12-5-2 while Philipp Grubauer works to re-find the form that saw him selected by Seattle in the expansion draft from Colorado Avalanche.
Jones' save percentage was surpassing .900 before a wild recent game which saw Seattle beat the Los Angeles Kings 9-8 in overtime.
Now .888 and with a 2.97 GAA, the 32-year-old has provided sufficient enough net minding for the Kraken's offence to more than compensate for their goals allowed and more often than not come out victorious.
Seattle's 3.50 average goals per-game is eight in the NHL and their goals-against of 3.19 is 17th.
Key to their improvement has been the introduction of Matty Beniers into the line-up who has 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 26 games and is +150 to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Andre Burakovsky, signed from the Stanley Cup Champions Colorado Avalanche has also made a huge impact with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 26 games and has helped make the Kraken -240 to reach the playoffs.
Tkachuk had a career-best 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists) with the Flames last season and that offensive output has only increased with the Panthers, rising from 1.26 average points per-game to 1.48.
In his last five games alone, Tkakchuk has eight points (three goals, five assists) and his 37 total points is 13 more than any other Panther.
The move to bring him in for Huberdeau (after 10 years in Florida) and Weegar (five years), was a bold one by GM Zito, motivated by trying to find success in the playoffs where the Panthers have flattered to deceive.
With just one Stanley Cup series win in the past 25 years, Zito decided it was time for a shake-up, moving for Tkachuk who along with his offence carries a snarl missing from the Panthers' playoff play for many a year.
For him to be able to make that difference, though, Florida must make sure they get to the dance which they are -300 to do and a win on their return home over the Kraken would do wonders for their chances.
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