Eide: How the streaking Seattle Kraken have picked up steam
After a frustrating and draining six-game losing streak, the Seattle Kraken won for the fourth time in their last five games Monday night, beating the Sabres in Buffalo.
That win comes after the Kraken knocked off the Florida Panthers on Saturday to prevent them from setting an NHL record with 12 consecutive home wins. Even more impressive is that the Kraken completed a stretch of games where they played the Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Panthers – five of the NHL’s top clubs – and won three to earn six points.
Monday’s win over Buffalo was a good sign as it was the classic trap game on the road against a struggling team. The Kraken didn’t let up, however, and picked up a 7-4 win.
“You’re a little more excited to come to the rink, you feel a little bit better,” Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after Monday’s win about the feeling around the team. “The biggest thing for me is just credit the guys for staying with it, staying together during some of those tough stretches where you’re playing pretty darn well but not getting rewarded. So it was nice to be rewarded tonight, both individually with some guys getting some rewards offensively but the biggest thing is the two points for our team.”
Once a point away from the bottom of the Pacific Division, the hot streak has allowed the Kraken (8-13-1, 23 points) to leapfrog two teams in the standings as they try and crawl out of the hole that the losing streak dropped them in.
Seattle has one more game on its five-game road trip and already has four points to show. Getting any points Wednesday in Detroit will make the trip a big success. But does that mean the Kraken have turned the corner? Is there still more to give? Have they solved their problems, and is the recent streak sustainable?
What’s been working for the Seattle Kraken
Right off the bat, the most notable improvement with the Kraken has been the goaltending. When the team was losing, both Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger struggled. They couldn’t make timely saves when the team needed them and goals against piled up.
Grubauer bounced back first with two back-to-back wins over the Capitals and Hurricanes at home prior to Thanksgiving. He’s 2-1-0 in his last three starts with a .941 save percentage and has looked more like the Grubauer of last season, when he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
Driedger’s first two starts of the season were bad, and he was pulled in the second period of his start against Colorado after allowing four goals. But he stoned the Panthers – considered a “revenge” game as he played for the Panthers last season – by stopping 33 of 34 shots he saw against the top-scoring team in the league. That earned him a second straight start in Buffalo and he won for the second time this year. His save percentage in his two starts this week is .942.
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) November 27, 2021
The resurgence of both goalies has been the driving force of the Kraken’s hot streak, and they’re finally getting the tandem that they planned on when the season began.
As great as the goaltending has been, the Kraken are getting contributions elsewhere, too.
Defensively, they’ve managed the puck better and there have been fewer deadly turnovers leaving the goalies out to dry. Blocked shots are up, the Kraken have collapsed around the net when there have been scramble plays in front, and they’re finding loose pucks and clearing them.
Seattle has allowed the eighth fewest shots while at 5-on-5 in the league and keeps a lot of the play to the outside. They are a tough team to create against, as the Panthers discovered on Saturday.
Special teams have been clicking – the Kraken scored the first two shorthanded goals in franchise history on Monday – and have climbed into the NHL’s top 15 in penalty killing.
WHAT A SHOT!
— Seattle Kraken (@SeattleKraken) November 30, 2021
At one point, the Kraken power play was mired in a 0-for-32 slump, but prior to Monday’s game where they didn’t get a power-play chance, they had scored at least one power-play goal in seven of their last nine games.
Hakstol has been searching for some line combinations that he can count on and has started to find some. He moved Yanni Gourde to center a line with Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz, and that line has worked well while producing scoring chances and a pair of goals.
He also put a line together with Morgan Geekie in the middle and Jared McCann on one wing opposite Brandon Tanev. That trio created two goals against Buffalo, and in the two games together have taken 53% of unblocked shots while they’re on the ice together.
Can the Kraken continue to play at their current level?
It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect your goalies to maintain a .941 save percentage each night, but the improved play between Grubauer and Driedger will keep the Kraken in games moving forward.
Seattle has dealt with some injuries this season, but for 40 minutes against Carolina last Wednesday it had a full complement of roster players. But they lost Calle Jarnkrok that night and have since lost defenseman Mark Giordano to COVID-19 protocol and Eberle to an injury in the second period Monday. Those are three key players, and the Kraken will hope that their absences from the lineup are short-lived.
Overall, the Kraken have seemingly solved some of the issues that were hurting them. They’ve come out of the last five games with tremendous intensity in managing the puck better, blocking shots, and grinding out goals.
It’s a high-effort, playoff style of hockey. It takes a great deal of energy to play that way and Seattle must sustain it the rest of the season. If they play flat, they’ll see results like in their 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday.
It’s something the team is aware of and the key to determining success for the rest of the season.
“We’re not a skill team like Colorado who can just turn it on, score six, give up four, and win the game,” Grubauer said. “You’ve got to go into the game with a mentality of it being 1-0, 2-1. It takes everybody. You can’t just have five guys play the game and expect to win so we need everybody, every night, every shift, every situation, and if we do the right things, good things will happen.”
Seems simple enough.