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Kraken’s Dreary Losing Skid Raises Concerns About What’s Going on Behind Closed Locker Room Doors

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

There is a time for strategy, and there is a time for honesty.

Explanations as to the driving force behind Seattle’s four consecutive, gruesome losses have been scarce from head coach Dave Hakstol at a time when they’re direly needed. Losing skids are hardly world-ending but there’s something worrisome about this one, harkening back to the dread of Seattle’s eight-gamer three months ago.

Only this time around, 11 points out of the playoffs with 16 games lingering on the schedule, the Kraken are out of time. 

Everything shifted after the crushing blow dealt by Vegas. Fresh off a shutout loss to the Winnipeg Jets and mere seconds from securing a win amid their standings free fall, fumbling a two-goal lead hit Seattle where it hurt the most: their pride. Dramatic reactions from players— thrown sticks, slumped shoulders, a fist slammed into the locker room white boards post-game— signaled a deeper unease, a foreboding. It was a loss they couldn’t live with and had to.

Hakstol felt his team did “everything right” save for those final few minutes of the game when the unraveling of their lead began. Minor, fixable defensive lapses were all that stood between Seattle and a finer outcome. No sweat.

“We don’t need fire, we don’t need confidence. We’ve got that,” Hakstol asserted.

Wiping the slate clean became the top priority for the head coach and the biggest message he relayed to his armaments. That’s how, according to Hakstol, his guys are “able to handle” the sting of such a severe loss, the weight of ‘what could’ve been’ knowing the majority of the game was good enough for victory, at least in their eyes.

”Our group is good, we’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” Hakstol said Wednesday. Famous last words— Seattle was neither good nor ready welcoming the Washington Capitals to town, and again when they took on the Nashville Predators.

A lifeless, uninspired Kraken roster trudged out to lose to both teams, notching only 13 and 12 shots, respectively, through the first forty minutes of each game. Opponents gained initial leads solely off of self-inflicted wounds by the home team— a puckhandling turnover from Joey Daccord jump started the Caps; an own-goal by Justin Schultz helped the Preds. Seattle scored once in each game, the natural result of their defeated, mistake-ridden play, their failure of a forecheck, their scraps of offensive zone time.

During a late TV timeout on Saturday, Nashville’s coaching staff huddled their troops around the bench to scheme the final minutes of the game. Nothing happened in Seattle’s neck of the woods— no rousing speeches, no strategizing, no collective conversing. There was little to suggest the home team was prepared and eager to fight back for a win. Instead, they looked like they’d rather not bother.

Filip Forsberg secured an empty-netter minutes later.

Hakstol was adamant that past losses— namely, to Vegas— did not bleed into performances versus Washington and Nashville. However, he spoke of players arriving to practice “upset” and “with an edge” ahead of time, and the ensuing losses played out in a similarly frustrated, fatalistic fashion.

“Our guys have continually showed up with great determination and there’s no reason that won’t happen again tonight,” Hakstol said the morning of the Capitals game. No reason, and it happened anyway— twice. Falling short in “a couple areas” was the extent of the reasons he provided as to why.

Players are scrambling for answers. An exasperated André Burakovsky sighed before telling reporters Saturday if he and his team had any idea what was making it difficult to set up offensively, they would fix it. “We make it hard for ourselves. A lotta times instead of giving [the puck] to the guy that’s gonna have the most time, more space, we send it somewhere else.”

“It shouldn’t be hard” to put effort into games, a restrained Oliver Bjorkstrand said of the Washington loss. “We’re fighting for a playoff spot, it really shouldn’t be hard.” Yanni Gourde confessed the same night he had no idea what went wrong. “A lot of things, I don’t know. It’s one of those games where you feel like you’re not on top of it.” 

But why?

If the team is showing up as determined as Hakstol claims, understands the urgency of their position in the Western Conference so well, knows how to push themselves to a higher standard of offense, why don’t they meet it? Is this lack of effort symptomatic of a larger issue?

Pointing out technical flaws responsible for Seattle’s losses, as Hakstol does, is important, but his explanations are far from the full picture. Costly defensive mistakes, a lack of trust between teammates in the offensive zone, an inability to “clear the deck” and move on, all came out of nowhere and have ravaged this team’s ability to work effectively and cohesively. There’s a deep-seated, intangible disconnect at play among the Kraken, reflected in dwindling postseason odds (1.6% according to MoneyPuck) and nonexistent offense— Seattle averages 1.5 goals over their last four games and 2.14 this month.

Reality is, the Kraken will be packing for the golf course this spring, a fact infusing every game until then with a sense of pointlessness. Perhaps, then, it’s not so surprising Seattle plays like the season’s over— it is. Even so, the underdog identity that propelled this team to monumental wins long after elimination during their inaugural season has completely faded. This iteration of the Kraken is unrecognizable. There’s no pulse. Nobody has any idea why.

Worse, there’s no accountability on Hakstol’s end, no attempt by the head coach to reconcile the on-ice product with the attitude of the room. Is his message is falling on deaf ears?

Proof is needed that this team isn’t falling apart behind closed doors, because they play like they are on the ice. Seattle needs to be honest with themselves: these dead-eyed performances don’t cut it even if they’re not gearing up for the postseason. And that honesty starts with Hakstol.

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