It was during the first period intermission segment that I heard what might be shaping up to be the first major piece of the Kraken’s identity: “The most promising thing about this group is their fight back.” It was a fitting turn of phrase considering the Kraken had notched their first official fight courtesy of Vince Dunn, but it wasn’t actually that literal. It was about having resilience.
There’s an oft-repeated mantra in hockey about how you have to have a short memory. You can’t be forgetful, but you can’t afford to spend too much time dwelling on mistakes made and games lost. The next game - or even the next shift - is always just right around the corner.
This Kraken team began to show it in their debut against the Golden Knights when they saw a 3-0 deficit and turned it around to a tie game. They showed it even more strongly against the Nashville Predators as they proved themselves resilient in two ways: the first in coming back from a early 1-goal deficit, and the second in being able to put the loss behind them and win.
There was a lot to take away from this game - both good and bad - so let’s break it down.
During the first period, prior to scoring either of the two power play goals, I made a note to myself that it felt like the Kraken were scoring too much from the perimeter and from back near the blueline. NaturalStatTrick and our lovely social media confirmed me on my observation at the end of the first:
Now, why does this observation matter? Simply put, there are parts of the ice that are much more dangerous to shoot from. Of course, there are always exceptions. After all, Jared McCann’s power play goal came from a farther back shot. Yet, it worked better partly because of the screening set up. There was nearly another game of “Schwartz or McCann?” because of how Jaden Schwartz’s net-front presence created the illusion that the puck could have gone off of him. Yet, those distant shots become much more dangerous because the presence of extra bodies makes it much harder for the goalie to see what’s happening. Take clear vision away from goalies and stopping the puck becomes more of a challenge.
Going back to shot quality, there was a reason that the Predators were able to get on the board first. Well, technically two reasons, but the first is that despite having less shots on goal, they got one in on a dangerous spot: the net front. (The second reason is that if a team can figure out how to quickly capitalize on the immediate possession, winning faceoffs is indeed a crucial part of the game.)
Most goals in this game from both sides were scored closer to the net front, which points to that trend. It jumped out at me immediately that Alexander Wennberg’s goal was set up for success because he was positioned right up front as the entire play unfolded. It also helped that Alex Barré-Boulet’s pass was shot from the opposite side of the ice. Juuse Saros had to try to leap from one side of his net to the other, but Wennberg being parked right in front of the net gave the goalie no time to stop it. The puck was in before he was even close to being in position for a save.
Alex Barre-Boulet with the sauce. Wenny with the finish! pic.twitter.com/V8wH462pNw— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) October 15, 2021
Sure, goals can happen from anywhere on the ice, but teams increase their chances that a shot can become a goal when set up properly. Getting bodies up in front of the net - either to do the scoring itself or to act as a screen - drastically limit what goalies can do to save shots. Seeing this from the Kraken more often will truly be a key to winning more games going forward.
Power play a budding strength?
If I were a betting person, I would’ve put my money on the first power play goal to be scored by McCann. His breakout in Pittsburgh last season was fueled by the fact that he was their best power play goal scorer, leading the team with 7. McCann’s ability on special teams is what lead the Penguins to trade him to Toronto prior to the expansion draft so they didn’t lose him for completely nothing - and it surely seemed to factor into why Seattle chose him over any of the Maple Leafs’ regulars. Then, in a move that made me wonder if the Kraken knew that I, specifically, was working on the game recap tonight, Brandon Tanev also notched a power play goal. Two goals by two ex-Penguins, thank you very much Pittsburgh.
Yet, this was only the first power play goal in terms of the regular season. The Kraken had done well for themselves on the power play in their first preseason game against the Canucks. It was noted in that game as well that the team really hadn’t had the chance to practice it much, but it was clicking anyways.
One of the major concerns that people have had looking at the Kraken’s roster ever since the day of the expansion draft is figuring out where the goals are going to come from. The team looks to be built around defense first. Perhaps the power play is going to be the answer to this. It’s possibly still too early to fully declare, but it would be a wonderful turn of events to be a fearsome power play team.
Don’t get too comfortable
The joke you’ll often see float around is that “a two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey,” but the Kraken in the third period decided to test the principle behind that joke with just a one-goal lead. What’s so dangerous about it? A team can easily become too complacent. Players themselves will even admit it in interview quotes as to what went wrong when they blow a lead. They sat back a little too much and didn’t put as much offensive pressure going forward, and the other team capitalized on that to shift to momentum.
Thankfully, the Kraken only let it get as far as letting the Predators tie the game, but the third period had me feeling terrified that they were going to fully blow it. That’s just what happens when the Kraken spend the majority of it defending in their own zone and generating absolutely no offensive pressure out of seemingly nowhere. There’s sitting back a little, and then there’s no forward momentum whatsoever.
Now, a little leniency is due here. It’s the Kraken’s second ever (regular season) game. The lineups changed again - such as Soucy replacing Fleury on defense - and it can be very easy for a team that’s still learning to gel to also just burn themselves out.
That doesn’t make it suddenly okay, though. It’s still a massive flaw. It still took until Tanev scored on the empty netter for the Kraken to get a shot on goal in the third period, and the amount of time that Seattle spent in their own zone had me thinking that the rest of the team owes Philipp Grubauer a free dinner or two for bailing them out with so many major saves. It may have worked out in the Kraken’s favor for this game, but they aren’t always going to get this lucky. Grubauer is not going to be able to bail them out every time - and in the final minute of the period he did finally falter as Mikael Granlund scored, in case we needed proof of that. The Kraken need to address how to not overwork themselves too soon. It wouldn’t do good to suddenly become the team that blows third period leads.
After all, the Kraken are trying to become the team with a little “fight back.”
Next game: Saturday 10/16 against the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Puckdrop 4:00 PT / 7:00 ET.