KRAKEN

Seattle Kraken were built to be a good defensive team, but are they?

Jan 4, 2022, 11:22 AM | Updated: 12:30 pm
Seattle Kraken Canucks...
Vancouver's Tanner Pearson celebrates a goal by Conor Garland against the Seattle Kraken on Saturday. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It was in November when the Seattle Kraken teased by beating three of the NHL’s top teams over an impressive four-game stretch. Those wins promised some hope that they could claw their way into the playoff picture in the Western Conference.

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That now feels like a lifetime ago as the Kraken are sitting on a five-game losing streak after a home loss to the Vancouver Canucks on New Year’s Day.

Losing that many consecutive games is always a frustrating low point of a team’s season. The problem for Seattle is that this is the second such streak after suffering through a six-game losing streak earlier in the season.

The team is at another low point.

Coming out of the holiday break, Seattle had three games that looked to be winnable, two against Pacific Division opponents that presented a chance to gain points in the standings. Of the six points on the table, they came away with just one from an overtime loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 29.

The script was the same for the three games. The Kraken played well at times and created chances but couldn’t get ahead of the game. There were defensive breakdowns and turnovers, and the Kraken failed to capitalize on the key goals they did score.

Giving up a goal quickly after scoring one themselves has been an issue all season, and especially so this past week.

“Trust me, we’re trying not to get scored on,” defenseman Adam Larsson said after Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Vancouver. “It’s a hard league and it’s something we really need to figure out. It’s been an issue for us. We have talked about it. We should expect the push. I don’t know, it’s frustrating.”

The response goals

The trend of allowing a goal against after scoring a key goal started for the Kraken on opening night against the Vegas Golden Knights. After falling behind 3-0, Seattle fought back, and Morgan Geekie scored at 7:58 of the third period to make it 3-3. It was a big goal and should have brought with it momentum, but all that was dashed less than a minute later when Chandler Stephenson scored what would be the game-winner.

Against Philadelphia last Wednesday, Kraken defenseman Jeremy Lauzon put Seattle ahead 2-1 in the third period, but the Flyers would tie 15 seconds later on their way to an overtime victory. The next night against Calgary, Jared McCann scored in the third period to tie the game at four, but the Flames snatched the lead right back, again 15 seconds later.

Is it a lack of concentration, a letdown after a goal, or bad defense?

“It’s an issue. It’s been an ongoing issue and that’s something that we’ve got to be better at,” goalie Chris Driedger said. “I don’t know exactly where that starts. But, from my standpoint, I’ve got to stop those pucks. That’s something that we’ve got to address as a team.”

The goals beg the question about how well, or how poorly, the Kraken defense is playing. And it’s something worth digging into.

Are the Seattle Kraken a good defensive team?

The Kraken were built to be a good defensive team, so breakdowns shouldn’t be happening. Finding top scorers proved to be hard in the expansion draft, so the idea was Seattle would put together a team that was tough to score against, leading to close games where they could get just enough scoring to win.

As expected, the goal scoring has been as advertised. The Kraken average 2.73 goals per 60 minutes (22nd in the NHL), including 2.17 goals in 5-on-5 situations (26th), according to Evolving-Hockey.com. That puts pressure on the defense to play tight.

By the numbers, the Kraken are doing well in some defensive areas. At 5-on-5 they are ninth-best in the NHL when it comes to suppressing quality shots. Their expected goals against per 60 minutes (a stat that looks at shot quality) is 2.25 while they’re actually allowing 3.22 goals per 60 minutes.

Seattle’s goaltending issues have been well documented and do explain some of why the Kraken are allowing more goals than perhaps they should. But goaltending is not the only problem.

It’s harder to quantify the number of mistakes the Kraken make, how bad their turnovers are, and how many have directly resulted in goals against. It feels like a lot, and it was an issue over the last three losses.

“We put two pucks directly on their tape in scoring areas and there’s reasons that those plays came out. Those can’t happen,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said after the loss to the Canucks. “That’s the bottom line. Those are really tough plays to put on your goaltender.”

The Vancouver game was a striking example of the types of mistakes that have been costly.

In the first period, with the game scoreless, defenseman Will Borgen had three options of open players to start the breakout but instead threw the puck up the middle of the ice, where it was quickly intercepted and put in the Seattle net.

It was a tough night for Borgen, who was involved in another turnover that led to a goal.

On this play, there may have been a miscommunication between Borgen and goalie Philipp Grubauer over who would play the puck. The slight delay allowed the Vancouver forecheck to break up the eventual pass, and the Canucks scored after two quick passes.

This isn’t meant to be a criticism of Borgen. He‘s not alone in making mistakes at the wrong time and place for the Kraken, but these plays show how a team could play solid defense overall but still make key mistakes that end up costing.

Due to COVID precautions, Seattle has a week off before their next scheduled game (Jan. 10 at Colorado), but they won’t be vacationing. Monday the Kraken held a long and intense practice and are taking this extra time to work on a number of issues.

That will surely include work on defense and breakouts, but Hakstol is also looking to improve what may be the most important factor that’s costing the team right now.

“One of the biggest benefits for us that I believe we can use it for is just to clear our minds,” Hakstol said. “You know, get our thought process squared straight and really get to work over the next few days as a group here in practice.”

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Seattle Kraken were built to be a good defensive team, but are they?