One theme of Thursday’s practice for the Kraken was speed.
In its first practice since returning from a five-game road trip and a 1-3-1 start to open the season, coach Dave Hakstol and his team had plenty to work on, with the focus being fixing the Kraken’s slow play and not getting beat in transition.
Whether that’s a result of the time zone changes and a long trip or not, the emphasis for Saturday against the Canucks is speeding things up.
“There’s a couple different areas, just in terms of work conducted to get back on transition and get back on the offensive side of the puck,” Hakstol said. “As we went through the road trip, there were sometimes three, four or five, and sometimes that’s natural, especially early in the year, we got slower in our puck movement, but just overall in transition.”
Those transition chances burnt the Kraken often against the Flyers, a 6-1 defeat Monday, but in the game against the Devils, the defense also allowed opposing offenses plenty of room to sneak under the circles.
The amount of slot shots allowed — the space between the circles — and general high-danger chances have become a detriment.
“Everyone’s learning a new system and getting used to playing with each other,” defenseman Jamie Oleksiak said. “Whenever we get practicing, we’ve got to take advantage of it, and we had a good day out there today. We’ve just got to make sure, every day we work on little details here and there, and make sure we get incrementally better every day — and just keep building our game as a team.”
The Kraken has allowed a league-high 49 high-danger chances during five-on-five play this season,. And while its five games were the most in the NHL entering Thursday night, it still had seven more high-danger chances than the next-highest team (Vegas Golden Knights).
The Kraken’s collective 73.81 save percentage on high-danger chances also is the sixth-lowest in the league, and 11 high-danger goals against is three more than the next most from Chicago.
Some of that comes from a poor transition game that’s allowed odd-man rushes (when the offensive team has a two-on-one against the defense) and put extra stress on the Kraken goalies.
In addition to the offense sputtering in the final two games of the trip, that additional stress has had the Kraken down first in every game except the one in Columbus, where it lost its lead in the third period.
“That really hurt us in terms of generating offense,” Hakstol said. “As well as, being back on your heels defensively. That’s one of the things we touched on today.”
Being at home is going to help with a lot of the little things; the Kraken has never had a real “home” game, with the preseason games at rotating junior arenas in the state and on the road.
With a chance to catch its breath on the West Coast for more than one game, the Kraken should have a chance to slow things down mentally, and speed up on the ice.
“It’s great to get back out, and kind of have that opportunity to get 55-60 minutes of work,” Hakstol said. “I thought today was really good, especially coming off a trip and a three-hour time change. Sometimes, that can be tough in terms of energy and focus but you know our guys today were outstanding, and the focus was there. Great energy. We were able to work on two or three things that we needed to touch on.”
One of the best ways the Kraken can avoid falling behind in these transition traps is getting ahead early. The Kraken’s 133:23 time trailing in contests is the second most in the league, and while it has played more games than anyone else entering Thursday, it was still more than eight minutes than any other team. It’s also allowed things to snowball, with a league-high 32 high-danger chances against while already trailing.
Having four games at home will be a huge help in establishing a routine for the first time since the Kraken became a franchise. It’s such an early sample size, the defensive breakdowns aren’t a trend to panic about just yet, and Hakstol and the coaching staff have already identified what has to be better.
The homestand is an opportunity to turn things around, and the first thing on the agenda is improving that transition defense, and being more difficult to play against in their own defensive zone.
“Build on your positives, improve some of the areas that have to be improved,” said Hakstol. “To have a group of veterans that understands what those areas are is really important, because it really narrows the focus and the work that you can do on those areas.”