Eide: Seattle Kraken need to get off to better starts to end skid
As the Seattle Kraken wrapped up their Sunday practice at the Kraken Community Iceplex, head coach Dave Hakstol gathered the team at center ice for a long conversation.
What they talked about is unknown, and when asked about it, forward Marcus Johansson said, “That’s between us.”
There are few things that we can guess were talked about since the Kraken have dropped four games in a row and five of the last six. They find themselves in last place in the Pacific Division and with a tough upcoming schedule.
The issues are evident.
Seattle is not getting clutch goaltending and the skaters aren’t helping by mismanaging the puck leading to quality chances against, all of which feel like are ending up in goals. The Kraken have been competitive and in every game with a chance to win yet are finding ways to lose.
Cleaning up those details was most likely a major topic in that huddle. So, too, was finishing teams when getting off to a strong start and taking a lead.
The start of a game is key, and the Kraken have not managed the early stages of games well. Seattle has allowed the first goal in nine of their 14 games and are 2-7-0 in those games. The Kraken are not the kind of team that can easily come from behind despite playing hard most nights.
When Seattle has trailed after the first period, it has not won a game this year, going 0-7-0.
Tough starts for the Seattle Kraken in the last two losses
An example of how the starts have led to losses can be seen in the last two games the Kraken have played.
Last Thursday, the Kraken hosted the Anaheim Ducks and fell behind 1-0 at the 4:42 mark on Mason McTavish’s first-period score. That was the only goal the Ducks scored in the first thanks to one of the better periods this season by Philipp Grubauer in net.
It probably should have been worse and Anaheim outshot Seattle 16-4, had a 25-10 advantage in unblocked shot attempts, and a dominant 85.5 percent of the quality shots.
It helped set a tone in a game that the Kraken chased all night and ultimately lost 7-4.
“I think we saw that when we did the right things, we got chances,” Anaheim defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said afterward. “They were very simple, just putting pucks in their zone and our forecheck, I thought, was outstanding tonight.”
Seattle would fall behind 2-0 in the second period, and while it fought back to get within one on a couple of occasions and pushed the pace in the third period, the Kraken simply ran out of time.
“We expect ourselves to be better than that and to start better here at home,” Hakstol said after. “Ultimately, we didn’t do that, and we really weren’t able to push back and that’s probably one of the biggest things, as well. We started back on our heels through the first five, six, seven minutes.”
Against Minnesota on Saturday, Seattle again yielded the game’s first goal, this time at 12:33 of the opening period. The Kraken were better in the first than they were against Anaheim but struggled against a tough defensive Wild club and were outshot 6-3.
In the final two periods, the Kraken had most of the shots and chances but had fallen behind 3-0 and again ran out of time before losing 4-2.
Kraken need to find the early jump
Seattle has a great home ice advantage. To a man, the players have talked about the noise at Climate Pledge Arena and how it motivates them. They want to play well in front of the 17,000 fans who show up each night.
The Kraken haven’t done it consistently, though, and if they want to crawl out of the hole they find themselves in, it must start at the start.
Players should be fired up and ready to fly out of the gates at home. It’s a mental thing and not something a coach can conjure up with the sort of fiery pep talk that you see in movies. They have to generate that energy within.
“It becomes a mindset and it’s a real important part of the preparation, an important part of the team,” Hakstol said. “You’re not necessarily going to win the hockey game by coming out and having a good start. But you start looking and statistically, this is a hard league to fight from behind in, and especially at home that’s not a position you want to be in all that often.”
On Wednesday, the Kraken will host a Chicago Blackhawks team that has been in turmoil all season dealing with off-ice controversies and having their coaching staff blown out after a rough start. That doesn’t mean the Kraken will walk over Chicago, who still have future Hall of Famers Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the lineup.
Wednesday isn’t a must-win, but it is a winnable game, and we might be able to gauge how it’s going to go in the first period.