There haven’t been many Kraken games this season where the lineup looks exactly the same.
Some of that has been COVID, which has affected the entire league, and also injuries, especially to the defense corps most recently. But in other instances, Kraken coach Dave Hakstol has simply continued to shake things up game to game.
Tuesday’s edition against the Predators marked the return of Joonas Donskoi, who sat Sunday, while Morgan Geekie was the healthy scratch.
” (There are) all kinds of things that go into decisions with our lineup, but we want Donskoi going back in there tonight,” said Hakstol. “And the flip side of that is I look at other areas and the job that (Riley) Sheahan and (Colin) Blackwell and (Karson) Kuhlman did together the other night was really good as a line. They did their job very well as a line. So I started looking at the people that are doing things really well and at the end of the day, the lineup decisions come down to difficult decisions.”
Geekie, who has three goals all season, hasn’t found the net since Dec. 11. Donskoi hasn’t scored all year, but did net the shootout winner just over a week ago. Hakstol stressed his lineup absence was to give the 29-year-old a breather.
He also emphasized this being the first stretch the Kraken have had some competition at forward, even with Brandon Tanev and Jaden Schwartz on injured reserve.
On defense, the group hasn’t had the chance to settle into much of a routine all season. Between nearly all of them in COVID protocol at one time or another, or the current injuries to Jamie Oleksiak (day to day, lower body) and Carson Soucy (week to week, lower body), the rotation has been difficult.
Haydn Fleury in particular has taken the brunt of it. The 25-year-old defenseman sat six consecutive games from Jan. 1 until he finally got in against the Sharks last week.
Fleury was one of six players the Kraken had on their expansion draft stage over the summer. His lack of involvement in the lineup has been a surprise.
“It was a struggle there for a bit. I’m not gonna lie,” he said before Tuesday’s game. “There’s some hard days but I think the one thing that I really tried to do is work hard at the rink after practice. Before practice, just really like trying to get better and at the end of the day, I really think the work I’ve put in with (assistant coach Jay Leach), I’m just really trying to keep a clear mind going in those two games. like you’re not really in a rhythm at all.”
Hakstol was complimentary of the approach Fleury has taken as the consistent odd-man out in recent weeks. Before him, it was Will Borgen who hadn’t seen any action in the first 21 games. Since then he’s been worked into a regular spot in the lineup.
That has come at the expense of Fleury for the most part, with Soucy earning regular playing time and Jeremy Lauzon mostly getting every game other than one last week.
“I think mentally really, your mind kind of gets out of the speed of the game I think things may have may seem a bit faster than they actually are,” said Fleury. “And even you might look at video and be like, Oh, I actually had like a couple more seconds here instead of rushing a play or something like that.”
Fleury was traded from his first NHL team, the Hurricanes, to the Ducks who then left him unprotected to get selected by the Kraken. In 21 games with the Kraken he has generated two goals (both in one game) and an assist while posting the eight-highest 49.52 goals for percentage at five-on-five of players with at least 20 games played.
Tuesday night was his 200th NHL game. How many games he’ll play with the Kraken before becoming a restricted free agent remains to be seen. The way it has trended, once Oleksiak is back, he might be back in the same position as the odd-man out.
Fleury has been pushing for that chance regardless, so whenever or wherever that opportunity happens for him, he’s put in the work, as frustrating as this season has been.
“You can take it one of two ways when you’re out of the lineup,” said Hakstol. “You can find a way to make yourself better that day. Or you can make the decision not to, and (Fleury) has made the decision to work closely with Jay to build his game to add to the detail of his game.”
Jarnkrok faces Preds
Calle Jarnkrok didn’t get to see the Predators when they played in the second game of the regular season. He was in COVID protocol and missed that entire road trip.
That game was also the first win in franchise history for the Kraken.
Progress hasn’t been easy for Jarnkrok. He didn’t score his first goal until his 13th game of the season, but since then he’s been on a roll. Since Jan. 1, Jarnkrok has scored four goals.
It’s come at a good time when the Kraken have needed to expand their scoring.
“What we’ve seen no, the last 20 games, whatever it is, is just him being him,” said Hakstol. “He’s a worker. He’s really intelligent and he’s got that defensive DNA, so that he’s always in the right spots.”
Jarnkrok himself said before Tuesday’s game he would still like to add some more consistency, even if the offensive results have started to fall his way.
“I don’t know how much I’ve changed to be to honest,” he said. “But I was still the same player. Trying to work harder every, game just having some more luck and you know, been able to score.”
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