Recap: A Wild night results in a 4-2 loss for the Kraken

Okay, I’ll admit it. This is when I’m starting to get worn down a little by this team.

I’m not to a point where I’ve lost faith and believe the Kraken are going to remain at the bottom of the Pacific Division forever, but it does start to get frustrating to see the team continue to find new ways to lose.

Honestly, tell me, who among us expected for Rem Pitlick to not just score his first NHL goal tonight, but to also go and earn his first hat trick? If you raised your hand, I’m sorry, I don’t believe you. I don’t even think Minnesota Wild fans would’ve seen this coming, though I’m sure they’re extremely happy for him tonight. If Hakstol hadn’t pulled the goalie and had an empty netter result from it yet again, the Kraken truly could have singlehandedly lost to just Pitlick. Seattle teams don’t seem to know how to have normal games, and the Kraken are putting this to the test while losing most of them.

In some ways, what are you supposed to do other than scream a little? This is especially scream-inducing when – as I’ll further point out below – the Kraken can lose like this while leading in very important stats. Underlying metrics point to good things, but they just aren’t resulting in any positives for the final score. This is still a results league. You don’t get any brownie points for having great stats but not enough goals for and too many goals against to show for it.

We’re about halfway through November. The Kraken have played a total of 15 games now. Of course, we still have to grade the Kraken on a bit of a curve considering that they have the inherent disadvantage of being an expansion team. The question at this part of the season, though, begins to shift to when we’re drawing our line in the sand. At what point do we start saying there are no more excuses and that the Kraken’s inability to win isn’t just bad luck or expansion woes? When does it become something where we have to truly wonder if Ron Francis and company drafted the right players out of who was available or picked the right coach for the job or any of that?

I’m still not sure. However, if the Kraken continue to keep wracking up losses, I’m going to probably come to some negative conclusions a lot sooner than I wanted to.

Is it goaltending or defense?

In Tim’s pre-game piece, he broke down the issue of goaltending. I similarly was looking at JFresh Hockey’s charts about goaltending today, and I knew that if things didn’t turn around tonight, I was probably going to need to bring it up. Beyond Tim citing the chart about Grubauer being the worst goalie in terms of goals saved above expectations (which JFresh tweeted during the game that it looks like it’s only gonna get worse), in all situations for expected goals against, the Kraken are dead last in the league. It doesn’t look good for any of our goalies right now.

Yet, there’s something else to think about here. Many fans have pointed out that perhaps the reason Grubauer’s stats were so good in Colorado is because while he was there, he was playing with a Cup-contender quality of defense.

There might be some truth to that theory. Not long after the first two goals by Rem Pitlick, this is what the heat map of unblocked shots looked like:

If shots are going unblocked, that means the defense isn’t doing their job when the other team has possession of the puck. This is especially egregious to see when NaturalStatTrick has the Kraken with 53.95 CF%, 51.22% of scoring chances, and they limited the Wild to only 37.5% of all the high danger scoring chances that occurred in the game. While these kinds of stats also indicate how well the offense is doing, they can also help determine who’s winning the possession game. Yet, this kind of a heatmap shows that despite all these stats working in the Kraken’s favor, the defense is still managing to let shots in on Grubauer more than they probably should.

Now, this was still an early game snapshot and was not the complete heatmap, but it still helps show how the Kraken were able to fall into a 2-goal hole. It doesn’t matter how much more your team is controlling the play here. If you’re letting that many unblocked shots accumulate right in around the net, and your goaltender has been struggling to save enough goals against what should be expected, that’s a bad combination to be having.

Bake up some turnovers

Additionally, what didn’t help the Kraken tonight were how many giveaways were being fed right to the Wild. Turnovers managed to easily turn into breakaways, and those breakaways led to goals. For example:

Now, in the case of this goal, it doesn’t help to be the recipient of a massive hit like that. After all, you try absorbing that hit yourself and maintaining possession of the puck. However, as McCann is trying to cross over through the ice, it leaves him at the moment of the hit as the farthest player back. Everyone else is well on their way heading down into the attacking zone. It’s the worst moment to be hit like that, because there is no one else to catch the breakaway forming.

When a goalie has to face down a breakaway, it’s not an easy thing to do. If they were the most routine saves in the world, then shootouts wouldn’t be the last resort in getting a tied game to end quickly. Allowing Grubauer to face down multiple breakaways isn’t ideal either, as Pitlick’s hat trick goal was also the result of a turnover that became a down ice flight. The team needs to be able to limit those chances better.

Goalie pulling controversy

Dan wrote up an entire piece about why teams pull the goalie and what the value is in doing so. For the most part, I do agree with him. You’re already losing so giving up an empty net goal shouldn’t matter, and it does act similarly to a power play in that you’re increasing how many skaters are on the ice and on the attack. When it does actually work, it feels like the most amazing strategy in the world.

However, it starts to feel a little more foolish to pull the goalie when you’re down by multiple goals. In order to actually pull ahead enough to tie the game and send it to overtime, a team needs that man advantage for a much longer period of time to be allowed to score that many goals. There was still 5:06 remaining in the third period when Nico Sturm scored on the empty net because of how early Hakstol had to pull the goalie in order to try to pull off the comeback.

Then Hakstol pulled Grubauer again. While in that case, it did actually work to get Alex Wennberg to score, it only turned a 4-1 game into a 4-2 game. Sure, that looks nicer. Sure, it adds some more confidence moving forward into the next game to show that you went down swinging. Yet, if the purpose of pulling the goalie is to try to stage a comeback, why is it happening when the game is too far out of reach for a comeback to be realistically probable? Pulling the goalie when you’re down by 1 makes sense to me. Pulling the goalie when you’re down by 2 or 3 feels like you’re being too optimistic even for me.

Man advantage actually an advantage

It’s not very often lately that it can be said the Kraken produced offense while they had an extra attacker on the ice. Yet, the Kraken actually scored a power play goal by Marcus Johansson along with Wennberg’s 6-on-5 goal.

I know, these things sound fake to my ears, too.

On these two goals, even though they involved special teams, they all had the Kraken’s top line of Wennberg, Jordan Eberle, and Jaden Schwartz out on the ice – all three picking up points in the process as well. This is what you honestly want to see. Just like how your top players should be your top players on 5v5, they should also be able to keep that offense rolling in a 5v4 or 6v5 situation.

Just from my observations during the game, it seemed like the Kraken were doing better at actually getting shots on net in these moments. There was sustained pressure happening throughout these opportunities. While the Kraken’s third power play of the night couldn’t match the success of the one that earned Johansson’s goal, it still felt like a prime power play because of the fact that the Kraken were getting better chances than they had in a long time.

The Kraken have been sitting among the bottom of the NHL when it comes to power play success rate, so we can only hope that perhaps this is a sign that the team is finally starting to steer this particular ship in the right direction.

Next game: Wednesday, 11/17 at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. Puck drop: 7:00 PT / 10:00 ET.