There was a play in the Kraken’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks last week in which there was a flash of what the Kraken’s offensive transition game could be.
Will Borgen sent a pass from behind the defensive goal line up the ice to Jared McCann, who had a breakaway. He didn’t score, but it was how the Kraken’s system is supposed to operate.
“You always try to have your head, have your eyes up,” Borgen said. “Every play when you get the puck you do that, but that one was just, I remember, the forward on the wall, it might have been (Jordan) Eberle, I think he was pointing as I came around the net, I think he might have been pointing up, and I looked up, and I see Jared down there, so just kind of sent the puck up ice.”
The Kraken defenders haven’t been bad at moving the puck this season. It’s in the neutral zone where forwards have stalled, or slowed play, and the offense has stagnated.
A play such as last week’s has been a rarity. More like that, though, is what the Kraken imagined when putting this team together.
Their long-range passes haven’t worked with the way their system functions in the neutral zone. That’s partially on the forwards to accelerate play.
“I think that’s one of the areas that we need to improve on,” Joonas Donskoi said after practice Friday. “Just getting out of the neutral zone faster, and I think being more consistent, not turning the puck over and kind of making sure we get the puck and create more offense that way.”
Analyst JFreshHockey did an analysis this week on what’s gone wrong for the Kraken this season, and it highlighted the lack of action on offense out of the neutral-zone transition. Earlier in the month, The Hockey Tactics newsletter did a similar exercise that detailed the ways the Kraken transition offense has failed.
“As we’ve seen, the Kraken don’t lose the rush battle with their defensive play, but by hyper-accelerating their neutral zone play and then slowing things down to a crawl,” it read. “The all-in long-range passes work infrequently (they rank 26th in defensive zone shot assists) and no team creates fewer chances by making passes in the neutral zone.”
The forwards are aware of their role in that.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job of just attacking quicker, getting the puck up the boards as quickly as you can, not letting them get set up into their neutral zone and creating offense out of it,” Eberle said Friday. “Especially with our line, we have (McCann) through the middle with speed, and I’ve always tried to create as much as I can off the rush.”
The Kraken don’t spend much time in the neutral zone, relying on those long passes to the offensive blue line to create rush chances.
The problem is if they dump the puck, lose a battle or lose the thread of the play, as they often have, the offense doesn’t create much.
The Kraken weren’t built to be an offensive juggernaut. They were supposed to shut teams down and then score enough to win, perhaps catching teams off guard with a long transition game. Because they’ve given up well-beyond league average goals against per game, there has been no chance to do that.
“Going back to the Calgary game, I think we’ve done a good job moving the puck,” defenseman Mark Giordano said. “Anytime you score four goals in a game, you need to defend and close those games out. We have the guys on the back end who know how to jump in and create offense. But we have to balance with not giving it up, either.”
But the offense has also been lackluster. A roster built to be more dynamic moving the puck on offense might make the Kraken more competitive, but they also need to improve the defense. They are allowing 3.67 goals per game — third worst in the NHL.
At 2.79 goals scored per game, the Kraken have the league’s 10th-lowest rate. They create most of their offense in their offensive zone. Not many of their chances come from driving the play up ice.
That approach has burned them the other way, too, with a lot of transition goals against, and that’s cost them especially right after scoring goals.
Their system isn’t broken, either; with more players equipped for driving the play through the neutral zone, it’s an approach that could work.
“You look at the NHL, the goals scored, there’s a lot of goals scored off those quick transitional plays,” Eberle said. “Where you can beat teams without them getting into their system.”