Kraken Breakdown: Are issues fixed just in time for tough stretch?

Dec 13, 2022, 11:15 AM
Kraken Matty Beniers...
Kraken teammates congratulate Matty Beniers after his goal against the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

The vibes around the Seattle Kraken were feeling a little sketchy last week.

Seattle followed up a franchise-best seven-game winning streak with three straight losses. On the road, things were looking bleak as the NHL schedulers had not done them any favors. That was all before Sunday’s 5-2 win in Florida against the Panthers.

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Are the issues that popped up during the losing streak fixed, or was Sunday’s win a sign the team fixed those issues and have righted the ship just before a tough stretch of their schedule?

Losing three games in a row during an 82-game schedule by itself is not necessarily cause for alarm. However, some trends emerged in those losses reminiscent of last season’s struggles and were a tad worrisome.

The defense was leaky, and puck management issues led to odd-man rushes and easy goals against. Seattle lost a game to the Montreal Canadiens where they allowed four goals on 16 shots, including an alarming three goals on four shots during the second period.

That was a winnable game that the Kraken threw away. It included gems such as Andre Burakovsky throwing a pass up the middle from behind the net that went right to Montreal’s Nick Suzuki. One pass later and Cole Caufield scored one of the easiest goals in his career.

Seven seconds later, the Canadiens scored again.

That exchange reeked of last season and was troubling.

After a 4-1 loss at the Washington Capitals on Friday, things started to feel uncomfortable. Where was the stingy defensive play, the goal-scoring, and the puck management?

It was all there Sunday against Florida.

Kraken 5, Panthers 2

Wherever the Kraken’s game had gone during the three straight losses, it was back Sunday.

From the opening faceoff, Seattle was the tight-checking club that we saw earlier in the season. The Kraken were tough on the forecheck, kept the Panthers to the outside, and got great goaltending from Martin Jones.

Their stingy defense created offense and the forecheck created a goal in the first minute of the game.

On this play, the puck was sent in deep and Jared McCann followed it on the forecheck. He caused just enough chaos that the Panthers lost the puck. McCann scooped it up and slid a backhand pass to Matty Beniers, who blasted a slap shot for his 11th goal.

That’s Kraken hockey at its finest and a sign that Sunday’s game was going to be different than the three preceding contests.

“We just talked about getting back to who we are,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said after the game. “We were a little bit better at five-on-five, a little better in terms of all three zones, in terms of how we checked, and that was a big piece of our game tonight.”

Beniers would add an assist and continues to lead NHL rookies in scoring, and he further cemented his budding star status in the third period. It wasn’t his goal or the helper, but rather standing up for a teammate. Late in the third period, Florida’s Ryan Lomberg hit Justin Schultz from behind, a hit that brought with it a five-minute major penalty as well as a match penalty. After the hit, Beniers, not known for rough play, jumped Lomberg without hesitation.

His teammates noticed and he was given the team’s player of the game hat for his actions. It was the kind of play that can galvanize a team and bond a young player to his teammates.

Granted, the Panthers were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after losing to Tampa Bay the night before.

“I don’t like talking about them being on a back-to-back,” Yanni Gourde said. “We’ve done that too often this year, just focus on us, focus on what we can do, focus on the start. It doesn’t matter… We just have to go out there and play our game.”

Gourde is right. With the way the NHL schedule works, every team must deal with tough stretches and playing back-to-backs. You can’t overlook anyone because of it and the Kraken didn’t on Sunday.

With a clean game where they fixed some of the problems that popped up during the losing streak, the Kraken need to advance that to the remaining games on the road trip, which will be tough.

The schedule ahead

We will find out if the Kraken have truly cleaned up their game this week with two hard games coming up.

It starts Tuesday night when they go to Tampa to take on the Lightning, who have been to the last three Stanley Cup Finals, winning twice. They are off to another good start and are 10-4-1 at home. All the big names for the Lightning remain.

Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point are scoring threats, and the Kraken will have to find a way to get pucks past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is still one of the league’s best. Seattle will need to play their tight-checking brand of hockey to have any success.

Things don’t get easier for Seattle on Thursday when it heads to Carolina to play the Hurricanes.

Carolina is off to a 15-6-6 start and already have a 5-1 win against the Kraken that came back on Oct. 17 at Climate Pledge Arena. Carolina is led by Martin Necas and Sebastian Aho, who were both drafted by Seattle general manager Ron Francis when he held the same position with the Hurricanes, and the Canes can score up and down the lineup.

Seattle played a great game Sunday to start the road trip with a 1-1-0 record. For the Kraken to have any success the remainder of the trip and moving forward, they will need to play the same way. They’ll need to play Kraken hockey.

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