Eide: Seattle Kraken finally playing the way they were built to play

Jan 26, 2022, 10:30 AM

Seattle Kraken...

Seattle Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer stops a shot by Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Seattle Kraken came up short Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators to end their six-game homestand with a 3-3-0 record.

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If you need a way to gauge how the first half of the season has played out for the Seattle Kraken, the fact that they’ve played .500 hockey for a week and a half feels like a major step forward. After a nine-game losing streak, it simply was positive.

The wins were nice, but even better was that for the first time this season, we got a glimpse of the identity that Seattle wants to play with. It took half a season, but they’re beginning to play the way they were built to play.

“We feel like our purpose is there on a night-to-night basis,” Seattle Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said prior to Tuesday’s game. “For us to win, all the pieces have to be in place. Let’s call it what it is. We own that and we should be excited about that. Everybody in our room has to contribute on a nightly basis. They’ve got to do their job. They’ve got to do it well and when we do that, we have a real good opportunity to compete and win.”

As an expansion team, the Kraken are dealing with a talent deficit most nights. They haven’t had years to put a deep roster together sprinkled with upper-end offensive talent. What they have assembled is a group of players who most nights go out and compete hard. Hasktol is spot on when he says everyone on the ice has to play hard in order for them to be competitive because the margin for trouble is small.

That’s what we have seen not only over the just completed homestand but also over the entire month, ever since they had a week off to practice and get their minds right.

It has taken half the season, but the Kraken are finding their way. That doesn’t mean they’re going to go on a tear. With the talent they have, there are no sure wins on the schedule for Seattle but when they’ve shown some grit, they are becoming hard to play against.

The Kraken beat the Florida Panthers this week, one of the best teams in the NHL. Nashville is a top team as well and the Kraken gave them all they can handle.

“It wasn’t an easy game, credit to Seattle,” Nashville coach John Hynes said Tuesday night. “I thought they played a good game and tested us in certain areas.”

That refrain was common over the past few weeks. The opposing coaches and players commenting on how tough a game it was.

Unfortunately, the first half of the season has rendered the playoffs out of reach for the Kraken so this latest stretch of 3-3-0 isn’t signaling a blazing come back into the race. But it is the beginning of an identity for the team, some structure, and the framework for the coming seasons as the team adds more skill.

The Seattle Kraken way

So, just what is this identity or purpose that the Kraken have found?

It’s the same purpose that we all imagined when we saw the roster that was cobbled together at the NHL Expansion Draft. The team is built to rely on goaltending, defense, and timely scoring. The Kraken don’t want to play barn hockey, racing up and down the ice trading chances with the opponent.

They’re built to limit the opponent’s chances, limit time and space on the ice, and grind out goals.

Seattle’s success depends on defense and goaltending. Over the first half of the year, those were both troubling areas. Costly turnovers and a lack of key saves have hurt them, but the tide is starting to turn.

Philipp Grubauer has been the poster boy for Kraken deficiencies all season and in many ways, for good reason. His numbers have not been good, but he won three of the four starts he made on the homestand and perhaps played his best game of the year against Florida where he stopped 28 of 31 against a top offensive team. That win was punctuated with an unexplainable save against Anthony Duclair in the waning moments.

In those three wins he had a save percentage over .900, which is a mark that he had not hit consistently during the first half.

Four good games don’t make up for previous struggles and his numbers still look ugly. Grubauer’s goals saved above average remain over minus-20 which is still far and away the worst in the NHL but the trend is going in the right direction.

Hakstol indicated that Grubauer was going to start Thursday in Pittsburgh and it will be a test. If Seattle is going to be more competitive over the second half of the season, the Grubauer trend of recent needs to continue its trajectory.

Grinding out goals

Offensively, the Kraken don’t have dynamic scorers. Goals don’t come easy, and their goals scored per 60 minutes of 2.13 is seventh-worst in the league.

The three wins on the homestand saw the Kraken score 11 goals. When you eliminate the goals they were credited with for the shootout win against Chicago and an empty-net goal in the win over San Jose, it’s actually nine goals that beat a goalie. In the three losses, they scored one, zero, and two goals.

The Kraken aren’t built to score or come from behind. Hakstol addressed this after the 4-2 loss to the Predators.

“It’s tough to chase a game in this league, even if your down by one,” Hakstol said. “We had some good looks. For me, the biggest thing is we put ourselves in positions to be in the lead at critical times in this game. For our team, we need to win this hockey game 2-1, 3-1.”

Seattle could not find the goals against Nashville and fell behind 3-2 after two periods. They pushed in the third period but could not generate an equalizing score.

The identity and formula for the Kraken is simple. They need to keep the game close so that they can find just enough goals to come out on top. It wasn’t happening in the first half of the season but has increased of late.

As the Kraken hit the road this week for a trip through the Northeast, watch for how they start and if they fall behind early. If they do, it will be tough to win but if they score just enough, they just might squeeze out some wins.

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Eide: Seattle Kraken finally playing the way they were built to play