Eide: Seattle Kraken lack stars, but depth is there and will be key the rest of the way
Over their last six games, the Seattle Kraken have defeated the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and Florida Panthers, three of the NHL’s elite teams. But the most impressive performance over that stretch was a game that they lost.
Wednesday night in Detroit, Seattle faced a young and up-and-coming Red Wings squad on the road. Already a tough assignment was made tougher by the fact that Seattle would have to do it without Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, Mark Giordano, Calle Jarnkrok, Will Borgen, and Chris Driedger.
The Seattle Kraken turned in a gusty team effort, forcing overtime before losing in the skills competition to earn a point allowing them to return home from a four-game road swing with five standings points out of a possible eight.
“Every point is massive,” Yanni Gourde said. “Every point is very important. So, it is a big point, but we’ve got to be a little bit better. But we battled tonight. We definitely battled and we’ll look at the tape and try to improve.”
After a slow start to the season, including a terrible six-game losing streak, the Seattle Kraken need points. The point they picked up Wednesday gives them 18 on the season and leaves them six points away from the last wild card spot in the Western Conference. With 59 games still to go in the season, picking up points is the focus from here on out.
Losing a game in the shootout leaves a funny taste in a team’s mouth. It’s technically a loss but one that wasn’t decided by actual hockey, rather a skills competition. Feeling positive or negative about it depends on the circumstances that led to it.
Despite the “loss” Wednesday, Seattle showed that while it lacks superstars on the roster, there is depth here, and it’s that depth and that performance that will decide whether Seattle gets into the playoff race.
Lack of superstars
When Seattle general manager Ron Francis selected his players during July’s NHL Expansion Draft, he ended up with a roster of players with similar skill sets.
There were players like Jordan Eberle and Jared McCann that had some offensive acumen. But the forward group was made up of guys who all played two-way hockey, grinding hockey, and playoff-style hockey.
The rules of the Expansion Draft all but assured there would be no superstars available to the Kraken and none were taken. At a quick glance, that would seem problematic.
Having a superstar or two on your NHL roster does not equate success, however. The Edmonton Oilers, who will be in Seattle on Friday, have the league’s two brightest stars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The duo has played together since the 2016-2017 season and the Oilers have advanced past the first round of the playoffs one time.
In Toronto, the Maple Leafs have three star players in Auston Mathews, Jonathan Tavares, and Mitch Marner. That trio has yet to get out of the first round of the playoffs.
In Tampa Bay, the Lightning have stars at every level of the ice and have of course won back-to-back Stanley Cups. Before those two Cup runs, however, they were bounced in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets who ground down the Lightning. It was the addition of role players like Patrick Maroon and Blake Coleman that made the difference, along with complimentary players like Gourde.
Having a mix of stars and grinders is the recipe that the Lightning rode to championships. Getting superstar players will help but is more a future endeavor for Seattle.
The Kraken have the later part of that mix now, and it could be good enough to fight for a playoff berth.
Seattle’s depth shining through
Prior to the game in Detroit, the Kraken beat the Buffalo Sabres 7-4. In that game, 12 different players figured in the scoring.
Even with the missing players on Wednesday, seven Kraken picked up at least a point. Depth player Ryan Donato stepped in and scored twice, including the game-tying goal late in the third period that forced overtime.
It’s said over and over in every sport, but the Kraken have leaned on the ‘next man up’ mentality.
“We have tremendous depth in this organization so let’s use it,” Gourde said Wednesday. “Whoever gets to go over the boards has got to go do it the right way and work hard. And if you do that you put yourself in a good position to win games. Doesn’t matter who’s stepping on the ice… next guy up and let’s get the job done.”
The Kraken had a fully healthy roster for about 40 minutes to start the game last week against Carolina. Jarnkrok went down in that game and hasn’t played since. No matter who has been out, they’ve found guys to step in.
In Saturday’s huge win at Florida, it was Joonas Donskoi setting up two goals, in Buffalo McCann and Mason Appleton each scored twice, and in Detroit it was Donato. It’s been someone different every game.
When a team relies on star players, they struggle when injuries deplete the top of the lineup.
While Eberle and Schwartz are key guys and probably Seattle’s best offensive players, head coach Dave Hakstol has his team playing a system of tight defensive hockey, getting on the forecheck, and grinding their way to success. That system allows for interchangeable parts to contribute, and the Kraken have several players who can all play that way.
“We can do it every single night and that should be our standard,” Gourde said. “I think we set that up on this road trip, as this is a standard for this team. We’re going to go out there and battle every single night and that’s going to give us a chance to win games and get points. I like our compete level, I like the way we battle. We’ve just got to keep building, keep being tighter in our structure and keep improving.”