Matty Beniers, Ryan Donato homecoming a subplot in big Kraken-Bruins game

BOSTON — Two teams that left their last loss in 2022 were scheduled to face off Thursday night at TD Garden in Boston. The Bruins were 4-0 in the new year, and the Kraken were 6-0, the NHL’s longest active win streak.

“I think everybody knows that tonight’s a big game,” Kraken forward Ryan Donato, who slid back into the lineup for a game in his home state, said.

It was the first NHL homecoming for Seattle’s newly named All-Star. Matty Beniers is from about 20 minutes away in Hingham, Massachusetts, on the south side of the Boston Harbor.

“Pretty big hockey town, I would say,” he said. “Everyone’s pretty involved.”

He’s expecting a cheering section larger than the one that came out last April to see his Michigan Wolverines fall to eventual national champion Denver in the Frozen Four at TD Garden. He didn’t play in the arena growing up but is making up for it lately.

There are a few holdovers from the 2011 Stanley Cup Bruins group that earned the intense love of the city’s residents, including a young Beniers. Current captain Patrice Bergeron recorded his 1,000th point this season, and Dec. 17 was declared “Patrice Bergeron Day” in Massachusetts. Alternates David Krejci and Brad Marchand were on the championship team as well.

The first memory that came to mind was from the next regular season — when winger Milan Lucic knocked over Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller while chasing down the puck. Miller sustained a concussion, and Lucic, who avoided a suspension, had to answer for the incident 11 days later when the teams met again. He fought Paul Gaustad 1:23 into the game.

As a kid, Beniers enjoyed that Lucic fight and others. But Bergeron was the favorite.

“He’s just so good because he’s so responsible. He plays the game the right way and doesn’t cheat,” he said.

Beniers, 20, was named to February’s All-Star Game last week in the middle of his 47th career game. He entered Thursday with a a five-game goal streak and three-game multi-point streak.

Beniers’ offensive production slowed in December along with the Kraken’s. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft had two goals and three assists in 12 games but remained at the head of the rookie class. He leads all rookies in goals (16), points (34), game-winners (three) and plus-minus (+12) and is tied for first in power-play goals (four).

“Matty’s been able to meet each challenge pretty well,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said.

He got a preview of what it would be like during a 10-game stretch last season. At the 41-game mark in 2022-23, Beniers has managed the oft-cited NHL “grind” well. There are roughly half as many games in a college season, even if it includes a run to the Frozen Four.

“He’s a guy that analyzes his game well. I believe he understands and knows where he’s at, energy-wise,” Hakstol said. “And he’s got some good guys around him to learn from. It’s not always about doing more and working harder — sometimes it’s managing your time on the ice, managing how and where you’re directing your energy.

“We’re at the halfway point tonight. There’s a grind in front of us.”

It’s also a homecoming for Donato, though not his first. Ryan’s father, Ted, is the coach at nearby Harvard, where Ryan played from 2015-18. Ryan threw his teammates a recommendation — “Monica’s in the north end is my spot” — and spent Wednesday night with family.

“You spend a lot of time with the guys. Not that I don’t love every single guy in here,” he backtracked, smiling. “I think every guy could admit that they’d like to spend time with family if they could.”

Before signing with Seattle as a free agent, the 26-year-old Donato was drafted by the Bruins and played parts of two seasons with them.

“They’re a very good team, but we’ve also got to respect ourselves,” he said. “If we continue to play the right way, [like] we have, good things will happen, especially against good teams.”

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