NEWARK, New Jersey – Kraken captain Mark Giordano voiced optimism after a taxing and increasingly bruising road trip about what can most help his struggling expansion squad.
He didn’t jump straight to the usual good night’s sleep in their own beds, time with families, or even a warm reception from welcoming fans rather than hostile ones. No, there was something else Giordano had in mind after a 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night about what his struggling squad can really benefit from.
A couple of days of practice.
“There are no excuses obviously, but we definitely need some practice time,’’ Giordano said after the Kraken finished a disappointing 1-3-1 on a five-game, eight-day sojourn across three time zones to launch the franchise. “You can see it in little areas of the game. We’ve got to sharpen up. We’ll get two good ones in when we get home and then a little homestand, so it’s going to be good for our team.’’
The sharpness was still largely missing in front of 13,806 fans at Prudential Center, even though the Kraken showed far more competitiveness than 24 hours prior when pasted by the Philadelphia Flyers. Plenty of real fight too on a night when fists were flying early and continued that way after Jeremy Lauzon laid out Devils star Jack Hughes along the boards.
Hughes tumbled awkwardly to the ice. And though Devils coach Lindy Ruff said afterward he saw nothing wrong with the hit, Lauzon was a marked man from there and the Kraken had livid New Jersey opponents to deal with in a game already showing signs of slipping away early.
First-period goals by Dawson Mercer and Damon Severson put the Kraken in a 2-0 hole before the game was even seven minutes old. The Kraken was also outshot 15-7, much as it was 16-8 against the Flyers and only some bad New Jersey luck at failing to beat the intermission buzzer on an apparent third goal kept it from being 3-0.
But last-minute goalie insert Joey Daccord, replacing the injured Chris Driedger and giving Philipp Grubauer needed rest, stopped 29 of 32 shots to keep his team in it after Riley Sheahan and Jimmy Vesey traded second-period goals and a late Alex Wennberg tally was ruled offside upon review.
Jared McCann then fired a third period wrist-shot past Devils goalie Jonathan Bernier during a 5-on-3 power-play chance with 5:19 to play and gave the Kraken life in a 3-2 game that once seemed lost. But Pavel Zacha iced it with an empty-net goal with 20 seconds remaining.
“I thought we had a way better pushback when we got down,’’ Giordano said. “We started to carry the play. We started to really generate.’’
And that’s where Giordano sees practice playing a role. The Kraken, for all its fight, was often a step or two behind the puck and inches off on its passing when it mattered most.
“We definitely have a lot of areas to clean up,’’ Giordano said. “Obviously, this road trip didn’t go the way we envisioned … we’ve got to find ways to generate more.’’
The Kraken looked increasingly fatigued as its inaugural trip wound down. It began well with a late comeback and tight loss against Vegas, then a win in Nashville and a third-period lead versus Columbus, only to lose to the Blue Jackets in overtime and then get pummeled by the Flyers.
But the Devils loss also showed a team with fresh legs – one that played just its second game Tuesday compared to the Kraken’s five – pouncing on a visiting squad already missing regulars Calle Jarnkrok and Marcus Johansson.
The return of Yanni Gourde did slowly add life to the Kraken as the game progressed. While it took time for Gourde to adapt to linemates Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle, the trio gained steam in the game’s latter portion as the Kraken began carrying more of the play.
“We didn’t win but we had some good looks and we’ll build from there,’’ Gourde said.
Gourde agreed with Giordano the team can benefit from practice time once it gets home and catches its breath. He felt the team regained its aggressiveness after the Philadelphia debacle and now needs “a couple of good practices’’ to fine-tune from there.
“We didn’t have that sit-back mentality,’’ he said. “We attacked the play. We played north. We didn’t have as many turnovers and we were more efficient in our forecheck. Those are all things we can build on.’’
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol, who rarely meets a practice he can’t fall in love with, noted the team has had only four or five actual tactical workouts the past three weeks.
“We’ve played a lot of hockey,’’ he said. “So, there are a lot of things we can do to sharpen up our game.’’
Hakstol is aware of talk the Kraken looked far more like a traditional expansion team one week into the season than folks remember the Vegas Golden Knights being during their debut campaign four years ago. But what most concerned him in Philadelphia had been that a team designed to be relentlessly competitive had abandoned that style.
And though he feels the Kraken needed a period or so to “find its legs’’ here and then likely “ran out of gas’’ at game’s end, the competitiveness was back. Now, returning to Seattle for the team’s Climate Pledge Arena debut Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks, he sees this effort being something the Kraken can build off to start erasing memories of the past week.
“I haven’t really talked to any of our players about it but I know they’ll be looking forward to it,’’ Hakstol said. “Coming off a nine- or a 10-day road trip, guys will be looking forward to getting home, getting a day to regroup and then that’s going to be a great event to look forward to.’’
Almost as great as the practice or two he has planned leading up to it.