Breaking the Ice: What to watch in Seattle Kraken preseason opener Sunday
We’re a few days into the inaugural Seattle Kraken training camp, with their inaugural preseason game at 6 p.m. Sunday (get ready to hear a lot of “inaugurals” and “first-ever” this year).
One unintended result of not having a home arena ready just yet is that the Kraken “home games” this preseason will take place all over the state, a de facto barnstorming tour to get in front of fans across Washington before settling in at home to what should be packed houses every night at Climate Pledge Arena.
Here is what I’m interested to see when the puck drops Sunday night in Spokane against the Vancouver Canucks.
Who scores the goals?
In trying to build a complete team, and with the players who were available, it wasn’t feasible for the Kraken to get an established offensive star. So with the current makeup of the roster, there are question marks as to who will be the primary man putting pucks in the net.
After just a few days of training camp, the top-line forwards appear to be set with Jaden Schwartz, who spent the past 10 seasons with the St. Louis Blues, and Jordan Eberle, an 11-year veteran who came from the New York Islanders.
— NHL (@NHL) May 20, 2019
Those two bring solid production, but Schwartz is coming off his lowest goal-scoring season (eight) since 2015-2016 and missed 16 games with an oblique injury, while Eberle has shown great consistency, albeit lower goal numbers with 19, 16, and 16 the last three years.
They are also known commodities, and it would be apocryphal to believe either one is capable of a surge like William Karlsson, the young Vegas center who went from four straight single-digit goal seasons to 43 in the Golden Knights’ inaugural year.
No hat trick < @Enterprise hat trick
— NHL (@NHL) February 22, 2020
Power plays and penalty kills
With the condensed timeline of this NHL preseason, the expansion draft having taken place a month later than it did for Vegas in 2017, and COVID-19 protocols limiting the amount of time spent together means that the Kraken haven’t had a lot of ice time. Everything is built from scratch, including the critical “special teams” – power-play and penalty kill units – which are often vital in determining the outcome of a game.
Those units also rely heavily on rapid communication and an innate sense of where your teammates are on the ice, which usually comes from hours and hours of ice time logged together.
The Kraken don’t have that luxury, especially when the most accurate indicator of a successful power play and penalty kill is ad-libbing and reacting in the moment, something that can be simulated in practice but can’t come close to duplicating how it plays out live on the ice.
Since these special situations don’t always occur with high frequency in a game, so it would be nice to see the Kraken take a penalty or two Sunday and get live reps for the penalty kill unit.
The average shift time in the NHL is in the range of 30-45 seconds. That is pretty freaking quick, even if it does build up over the course of the game.
For instance: according to ShiftChart.com, new Kraken center Yanni Gourde had 27 shifts at an average time of 47 seconds on the ice in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Game 5 Stanley Cup-clinching win last year. Short shifts have become the norm in order to keep players fresh late in games and especially over the long grind of a season.
However, in this first preseason game where every single line combination is brand new, it will be interesting to see if the Kraken utilize slightly longer shifts in order to get their lines more time on the ice against other competition. The 31 other teams in the league have a familiar base on which to build around whereas the Kraken are building from scratch.
Over the course of their six preseason games, chemistry will build and the outline of this team will solidify into a cohesive organism. But for now, when you might need a catalyst to bring together a myriad of personalities and players, get them out there and let them skate.