The Seattle Kraken spent the practices between its road trip and first home game trying to nail down its transition defense, neutral-zone play and ability to limit scoring chances.
Even in a 4-2 defeat on Saturday night, even with its second blown third-period lead of the season, that the Kraken was able to do nearly all those things for a full 60 minutes is a sign it has the ability to improve.
Entering Saturday, the Kraken had not had a single period without allowing a high-danger chance — a scoring chance or shot attempt underneath the circles and close to the net — all season. Seattle finally did that in the first period against the Canucks, and held them to just two all night.
That’s not unusual for a Canucks team that has struggled to generate offensive chances. Vancouver’s tying goal in the third period came on a power play, following Carson Soucy’s second penalty of the night. Then, the game-winner came from Conor Garland when he beat Jamie Oleksiak to the puck after a weird bounce away from Vince Dunn at the offensive blue line.
The Kraken wasn’t hanging its head about that play. Instead, players and head coach Dave Hakstol sounded more confident than ever about systems finally falling into place, and a buy-in on improving the areas that were exploited on the road.
“It was our best third, and probably our best (60 minutes) of the year,” said Hakstol. “Pretty even first period, thought we were able to tilt the ice a little bit in the second period, which you want to be able to do against a team that’s at the end of a road trip. We were able to do that in the third period. After getting the lead 2-1, we had three or four great chances to extend it and couldn’t do that.”
It didn’t look the same as the other games where third-period woes plagued the Kraken. Seattle got away with a one-shot final frame in Nashville to hold on for a win, and got the overtime point after surrendering a late one-goal lead in Columbus.
Against the Canucks, the Kraken was handed just a loss with no strings attached, even if it was a better effort. For a team just six games into existence — moral victories still aren’t real victories, don’t mistake that — taking steps is the closest it can get to seeing discernible progress.
“I think it’s more concentration and more competitiveness,” said Dunn. “We have good waves and then we let off a bit and we give other teams a little bit of the momentum. Yeah, it’s disappointing, like I said, I think we’re competing. We’re trying to do the right things but maybe sometimes maybe trying to do a little bit too much at times. I think when we’re fastest, we’re predictable out there, making the game easy on each other.”
Much of the week in practice focused specifically on transition defense, and the Kraken accomplished shutting that down on Saturday. The game-winning goal was on the rush, but given the bounce, no one seemed especially concerned about it.
Likely that was because the Kraken allowed just two scoring chances off the rush the entire game. That’s a stark contrast from the past few games, even if the second odd-man-rush attempt is what sent Seattle to a loss.
If the Kraken plays overall games like it did on Saturday, it won’t be a losing effort most of the time. Limiting opposing high-danger chances is one of the first signs the Kraken has the ability to adapt and respond quickly to glaring elements in its game.
“They made us pay on a couple of mistakes, to be honest, but even mistakes, just bounces or whatever you want to call them,” said Kraken captain Mark Giordano. “If we play that sort of game, we’ll be OK more nights . … than not. I think we generated a lot more tonight, we created a lot more and that’s a game which can go either way. They … made us pay when they got their chances.”
After Saturday, the next focus for the Kraken should be finishing on its own scoring chances. Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko came up big, making eight high-danger saves, but there was some puck luck involved as well. Mason Appleton beat Demko in the second, and the puck sat on the crease before being covered. Alexander Wennberg’s wraparound attempt earlier in that period was jumped on by the Canucks defense right before Jordan Eberle got there.
Those things are going to happen, but the Kraken had a 64.78% expected goals for percentage — a stat that uses shot quality to determine which team is expected to score more goals — so the chances are happening, but the finish has to follow, or there will be a lot of frustrating defeats no matter how much the Kraken controls games.