So, the Kraken aren’t looking too great at the moment.
There have definitely been positives to the first five games, but the negatives all seem to outweigh them. Poor defensive play, letting off the gas when they have the lead, possibly taking too many penalties, and so on goes the list.
There’s a lot for the Kraken to begin to tackle as they take a quick breather before Saturday’s home opener. Yet, despite all of this, I’m here to tell you that it’s not time to start panicking.
I’ve been invested in hockey and its fandom long enough now to know that overreactions happen all the time, and especially negative ones. It’s too easy to get swept up in despair. I theorize that a lot of this has to do with the fact that it’s harder to get your heart broken if you’re already expecting the worst.
However, it’s way too early for anyone to start resorting to that line of thinking. Plus, there have been some factors that are working against the Kraken’s favor in these first five games that hopefully shouldn’t compound to make as much of an impact moving forward. If we step back and look at this road trip as a whole, maybe it’ll be easier to come to terms with why it turned out so poorly.
Adjustments are in progress
Throughout five games, the Kraken have yet to feature the exact same lineup twice. There’s been all sorts of logical reasons for this. The first is that when you’re constructing a roster from the ground up, six preseason games isn’t entirely enough to figure out which fringe players deserve to make the lineup game in and game out. The second is that players both becoming injured and returning from injury force lineup changes. Sometimes it’s not truly in a team’s control as to what the lineup might look like.
However, this constant shuffling around also means that forward line combinations and defensive pairings have yet to fully gel. Sometimes sparks can happen between players immediately, but often it takes time to truly develop the kind of chemistry that makes playing with someone become instinctive. The Kraken aren’t anywhere near there yet.
But even if the lineup had remained the same for all five games, this is still a team coming together for the first time. Even though there are always offseason moves and no team is ever the same year to year, for every other team in the league there’s still going to be some level of familiarity that carries over from the previous season. The Kraken don’t even have that to rely on.
Yet, until the Kraken can start to fully settle in and figure out a much more clear-cut idea as to who primarily plays what role, it isn’t entirely surprising to see some early struggles out on the ice. The time to panic will hit if this team is still having trouble gelling by midseason.
Road trips are rough
Think about the last time you went on a decently far trip. Think about how much the actual act of traveling drains energy out of you. Think about how if you fly and if you are entering in and out of different time zones that you can become jet lagged and poorly adjust to the different hours.
Now imagine having to travel to five different cities in eight days, spending time going from the Pacific time zone, then to Central, then to Eastern. You’d be exhausted, right?
Now add playing hockey five different nights into that schedule. Even worse, add onto it all the chaos that Ryan S. Clark of the Athletic reported happening on the trip. Exhaustion might not be strong enough of a word anymore.
Some experts, coaches, and even players will admit that when on the road for a long trip, the realistic goal you want to set for the team is to come back with a .500 record in that stretch. Of course a team wants to win every game, but winning on the road is much harder than winning at home. For example, in my time rooting for the Flyers, I learned to dread the post-Christmas “Disney on Ice kicked us out of our arena” road trip because they never came back from those trips with a good record. Even if they were doing well, it was always a momentum killer. While it’s not like the Kraken players individually are strangers to this effect, the team as a whole is learning pretty quickly that even on a brand new team, there’s no escaping it.
This doesn’t even begin to factor the way that home fans can truly feel like they influence the outcome of a game. This season in particular, players from teams that have actually been able to play home games so far talk about how getting to actually have the stands filled with fans to capacity has been a big boost. I don’t think they’re just saying this stuff willy-nilly either. In games I’ve gone to in person, there have been moments where the crowd gets going just right that I can instinctively feel a shift coming on. I’ve felt it in both ways, as part of the home crowd that is waiting for the big goal that’s due to come, and as an away fan stuck in my seat thinking, “Oh no, this isn’t good for us.” I’ve been right both times.
The Kraken have had to fight against the crowds for five games now. They’ve yet to experience the kind of boost that having your fanbase truly rally around you can do. Combine that with the general exhaustion from traveling, and it makes sense that perhaps the scales were tipped against them in having to begin their franchise history on the road for so long. Climate Pledge Arena looks like it’s going to be a beautiful and innovative space that’ll be worth the extra wait on the finishing touches, but that extra wait really didn’t do the hockey team it’s home to much good.
I’ve already alluded to it above, actually, but the Kraken played five games in eight nights. No other NHL team at the time of me writing this has reached that many games played. The average is currently at three games. In fact, one team (the Bruins) had only one game under its belt the night the Kraken finished their fifth. Now, the Kraken were one of only four teams to play on opening night, but the other three teams (Golden Knights, Penguins, and Lightning) also haven’t hit that five game mark yet. This early schedule has been like a can of sardines – packed in tight.
It feels like the Kraken are getting a bit of a taste of what it was like to play last season, where games were more condensed than usual due to so many COVID-19-induced postponements. There was an observation I remember hearing from a Flyers game I watched when they were in the middle of their downward spiral about how these kinds of schedules are good for teams when they’re succeeding but bad when they’re doing poorly. When a team is doing well, being able to just jump in and play a bunch of games is good because there’s no time to overthink it. The instincts that have carried the team so far can just keep cruising. When a team is crashing and burning, though, having to jump into a bunch of new games leaves little time to devote to fixing issues. It turns into having to retool on the fly because consistent practice is hard to come by. Stopping and resetting isn’t much of an option.
Captain Mark Giordano even said as much after the loss to the New Jersey Devils, that while lack of practice time isn’t an excuse, it can only do the Kraken good to have more of it coming up. However, I wouldn’t call it out as an “excuse” at this point. Going back to my original point, this team is still gelling. Forming chemistry without much practice time seems less than ideal. I think it’s a legitimate factor in why the team fizzled out as the road trip went on.
It’s been five games. The Kraken are still figuring themselves out and they’ve been on the road this whole time while being forced to play more games than anyone else so far. It’s not been the easiest mountain to climb (and Jamie Oleksiak now knows a thing or two about said climbs). It still stings. The first five games in Kraken history and only a 1-3-1 record to show for it isn’t what anyone wants to see.
I also don’t set out to belittle the fact that the Kraken do have specific issues they need to fix, such as how Dan wrote about how the team needs to get better at preventing high-danger scoring chances against.
The sky isn’t falling, though. The Kraken have time to steer this ship around. Hopefully, by the end of the season, we’ll be able to look back at this opening road trip and see it as an aberration.