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Kraken vs. Coyotes Wrap-Up: Desert Disaster

The Kraken have the dubious distinction of handing Arizona their first win

Seattle Kraken v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images

What started out looking like a cake walk turned out to be a hard-fought battle with a desperate Arizona Coyotes team that went right to the final buzzer. And unfortunately the outcome for the Kraken was jaw-droppingly bad.

The Coyotes were winless going into Saturday night’s tilt against the Kraken, but Seattle made the mistake of thinking this was a team that simply didn’t care — and it cost them dearly. Arizona fought back from a two-goal deficit to take the lead in the third period, and when the Kraken managed to tie the game with less than two minutes on the clock, the ‘Yotes answered back mere seconds after the ensuing face-off and sealed the deal.

If you haven’t figured this out, I’ll tell you now: Arizona is intentionally tanking this season — losing as many games as possible to increase their odds of landing a high draft lottery selection. And yet, Seattle couldn’t manage to notch a win against a team whose roster is assembled for the specific purpose of losing games.

That’s more than “disappointing,” as the game was described by Head Coach Dave Hakstol in his post-game media availability; it’s borderline disgraceful. I sincerely hope that neither he, nor Seattle management, wakes up tomorrow morning with such a casual attitude about this appalling loss.

Scoring Early And Often

As I mentioned, this one was tilted hard in the Kraken’s direction in the opening 60 seconds. Coyotes’ starting netminder, rookie Karel Vejmelka, had played in Friday night’s loss to Anaheim. Things went badly for him early...

...and got worse less than a minute later...

Plainly the decision to start this kid — with just 8 NHL games to his credit before last night — in back-to-back games was ill-advised. So far this season he has performed admirably for a team that is giving him very little goal support, but plainly he is starting to buckle under the pressure. Scott Wedgewood, recently acquired off the waiver wire from New Jersey, took the crease with 19:01 left the 1st period, and all indications were that this was going to be a blood bath.

But as I mentioned, Arizona does not just roll over and die. And sure enough, 34 seconds later they were on the board when the Kraken defense yielded the blue line, allowing defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to whip a snap shot past Philipp Grubauer.

What ensued was sloppy, frenetic play on both sides, marred by a series of blown icing calls on the part of the linesmen, resulting in a fitful stretch where little momentum could be established. That ended at the 11:04 mark when Ilya Lyubushkin came away from a board battle behind his own net and handed a gift-wrapped present to Nathan Bastian, who put the Kraken up 3-1:

Can’t Sit Back

From there things got dicey. Sloppy play and blind passing by the Kraken in their own zone were the hallmark of the second period, and it cost them. The only goal in the period came from Arizona’s Travis Boyd, who had snuck in behind Adam Larsson with the Kraken all bunched up on the right side of Grubauer. Then, less than a minute into the 3rd, Arizona tied the game on a blast by Lawson Crouse.

This was another example of the Kraken sitting back and allowing the play to come to them. Registering only 7 shots in the second period, the Kraken failed to play the possession game that allowed them to dominate a far superior Buffalo team at Climate Pledge Arena on Thursday. Yet there they were, midway through the third period, in a tie game with a club that could lose to their own AHL affiliate on any given night.

Then the unthinkable happened. Bastian took a tripping penalty 8 minutes into the third, the normally impenetrable Kraken penalty kill failed to get the job done, and a five-hole blast from Phil Kessel put the Coyotes up 4-3.

It Was Not To Be

That woke the Kraken bench up, because they increased their pressure on Arizona at that point, keeping the play in the Coyotes’ zone for several minutes. That pressure came to a head when goaltender Philipp Grubauer raced to the bench to allow the extra attacker to join the rush, and captain Mark Giordano fired a parabolic slap shot that squeaked in under the cross-bar to tie the game at 4.

It appeared that the Kraken were going to escape this nightmare with at least a point, but it was not to be. Unemphatic passing led to a crucial defensive miscue, and the Coyotes’ Lawson Crouse put the game away.

This will probably be remembered as the year’s worst throw-the-remote-at-the-TV moment. Let’s hope it’s the last. This is getting expensive.

The win puts the Coyotes’ record at 1-10-1 on the season, and the Kraken have the dubious distinction of handing Arizona their first win of the year.

Course Correction

Among the forwards, there are bright spots. Jordan Eberle and Brandon Tanev continue their high-octane games, and can be counted on to give 100% every night. But then you have Alex Wennberg throwing aimless passes around in the defensive zone. You have Joonas Donskoi, who has shown an inability to shoot the puck anyplace but at a goaltender’s chest. And you have forwards either endlessly working the puck around the perimeter and not attempting a shot, or blindly firing pucks straight into defenders’ shin guards.

There are bright spots on the back end as well, even tonight: Mark Giordano had the game-tying goal in a clutch situation, and was plus-3 on the night. But overall, impatience is the biggest problem I see with the Kraken’s defense. In nearly every situation they are doing the first thing that comes to mind, even when they have time and room to assess their teammates’ positions and make the best play — instead of the fastest. This is leading to turnovers, and those turnovers are ending up in the Kraken’s net.

And it is now apparent what Philipp Grubauer’s biggest challenge is: consistency. In the wins over Montreal and Minnesota he allowed just 2 goals on a combined 55 shots; tonight he faced a paltry 22 shots and let 5 get past him. When he’s “on”, the Kraken win; when he’s not, they lose. Grubauer has 10 starts this season; he has allowed three or more goals five times — four of them losses.

Somebody has to say it, so I’m going to: Grubauer is not earning his $6 million salary, and if it takes a few games riding the bench to drive that point home to him, then so be it. It’s time to see if a healthy Chris Driedger can deliver consistent performance where Grubauer is not.

Unfortunately the list doesn’t end there. The Kraken power play is now, officially, the worst in the entire league, and the penalty kill is failing at the worst moments. Add to that the fact that the club is still unable to put together two 60-minute efforts back-to-back.

One can only hope that Saturday’s disaster in the desert lights a fire under the posteriors of coaches and management, and some meaningful changes are made. The current definition-of-insanity approach is plainly going to yield nothing except early April tee times. Kraken fans deserve better than that, and it’s time for a course correction from the club.

The Kraken are in action again this coming Tuesday in Las Vegas, when they will face a depleted but still very dangerous Golden Knights club to bring this short road trip to a close.