Seattle Kraken changes coming in hopes of getting back on track
The Seattle Kraken had a bit of a different look as they practiced Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s game with the Winnipeg Jets at Climate Pledge Arena.
Coach Dave Hakstol tweaked his forward lines.
Changing the lines is common in hockey and coaches are always looking for the right combination to create a consistent offensive attack. It’s rare to see a forward line stay together for long periods of time. There are exceptions, of course, such as the Boston Bruins’ “Perfection line” with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.
If your lines aren’t good enough to have a nickname, though, they are most likely going to change during the season.
The changes for Seattle weren’t in response to the team coming off a disappointing 6-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night.
At Tuesday’s practice, Hakstol said the line combinations were far from the top problem in that game. So why change now? It wasn’t because of any deficiencies but rather getting a player like Calle Jarnkrok back in the lineup and looking to create three or four lines that can provide offense.
Wednesday, the top line was made up of Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle playing with Alex Wennberg at center, followed by Yanni Gourde with Brandon Tanev and Calle Jarkrok on the wings, Marcus Johansson and Mason Appleton with Jared McCann, and Morgan Geekie centering a line with Ryan Donato and Joonas Donskoi.
These are line combinations that Hakstol had used prior as the team turned around the season after a six-game losing streak.
“The key thing is those two lines, the Wennberg line and Gourde line, have played a lot of minutes together,” Hakstol said. “So there’s some familiarity to go back there.”
Forward lines in hockey are fluid and coaches tweak them from game to game, sometimes even within an individual game. The lines that Hakstol used at practice will most likely be the lines we see Thursday and are combinations that have had success before.
We will find out Thursday if the new combinations are effective or not, but the Kraken will have a challenge with Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who is among the NHL’s best.
Did the lines need to be adjusted?
The Kraken had a couple of lines that played well over the past few games, most notably a line with Tanev and McCann on the wings and Geekie at center. The trio spent five games together and was arguably the team’s best, driving play in terms of puck possession.
When on the ice together, they took 57% of the shot attempts and 54% of the quality shots while holding a 25-19 edge in creating scoring chances. So why split them up?
Outside of that line, the Gourde, Schwartz, and Eberle line was similarly effective, but then there was a drop off. To win consistently, a team needs all four lines working. That allows a coach to roll the lines out and not have to rely on just one or two.
When you have four effective combinations, you can take advantage of the other team’s lower lines and wear out the opponents’ top lines.
Hakstol is looking to add more depth to his attack.
McCann is a key player here. He has played both center and on the wing, as he was with Geekie and Tanev. Wednesday he was back at center, which is his preferred spot.
“He’s played quite a lot at center in this league,” Hakstol said. “The two positions present different opportunities, different responsibilities, so for us to have that versatility has been important. He’s with a little bit of a new combination there and we want to get that third group going. He’s obviously a guy that’s provided some good offense for us. We need to be good 200 feet with and without the puck but along with Appleton there, they’ll be able to provide some offense for us.”
Can the Seattle Kraken recapture recent success?
The lines Wednesday were new in the sense that they weren’t used over the last few games, but with the return of Jarnkrok, Hakstol is able to go back to what has worked, especially with the top two groups.
Schwartz and Eberle have been the best offensive players for the Kraken this year no matter who has been at center, but they have played with Wennberg before and the three have performed very well. When together, their expected goals forced (a metric that measures the quality of shot attempts) has been an impressive 62.61%, and they have out-chanced opponents 47-34.
The Kraken have had similar numbers with Tanev and Jarkrok playing with Gourde at center. Those three have an expected goals forced of 65.76% while creating 16 high-danger scoring chances to just five against.
Looking at the underlying numbers, it’s easy to see why Hakstol chose to go back to these two combinations for his top six.
McCann hasn’t played with his new wingers – Appleton and Johansson – but has been consistently providing offense with 10 goals and 15 points this year, and that’s despite missing time in the COVID-19 protocol.
Similarly, the Geekie, Donskoi, and Donato group have a small sample size together so its hard to say how productive they will be. However, Geekie and Donskoi have played together and have been productive so the hope there is that Donato will compliment them.
If these lines produce and Seattle beats the Jets in the 7 p.m. Thursday game, these could be the lines we see moving forward, at least for a while.