In Friday night’s sixth consecutive defeat, Brandon Tanev smashed his stick against the boards, snapping it in half after the second period.
It was a symbol of how everyone involved must feel. No one gets into the NHL to lose games, and even as an expansion team, the Kraken created expectations for themselves.
An extended losing streak so early in their inaugural campaign was not a part of those plans. Before finally snapping that streak on Sunday, with the bulk of those games at home in their new arena and in front of their fans, eventually that does seep into the psyche of a team.
“Over time there’s no question I believe it can stick with you,” said Kraken coach Dave Hakstol. “For us to be able to push out of this, those things turn really quickly. But you have to get over the hump one time.”
Not all frustration manifests the same way. For some guys it’s like Tanev; for others, frustration and anxiety leads to what they refer to as “gripping the stick too tight.”
It’s a term the Kraken have mentioned more than once in the recent streak.
“Everybody was working hard,” Philipp Grubauer said after the win on Sunday. “But sometimes I think you’re working too hard, maybe not too hard but not smart enough. So we had a couple of conversations about that and it’s kind of embarrassing to know we lost (six) games in a row.”
When every Kraken mistake has felt like it’s led to a goal against, it’s tough to fight the natural urge to feel discouraged. That’s when the losing streak can become as much mental as it is mistakes on the ice.
Especially when players try to take it upon themselves to save the day.
“I think that sometimes when you try to do too much you can fall into trouble,” said Ryan Donato. “… There’s sometimes I think either myself or other guys can try and grip the stick a little too tight and try to do too much to change things, then some things go wrong.”
Donato took an early penalty in the offensive zone against the Avalanche, and it led to a power play and then a goal and the Kraken were down again in the fourth consecutive game.
It was a good example of what pressing can look like. Donato, who took the hooking call, was trying to make a play on the puck. There wasn’t anything horrifically wrong, but it’s a rough spot to be in early, and it cost the Kraken.
“The penalty we take 200 feet from our net that results in putting one of the top power-play units in the league on the power play, that’s a bit of the mentality I’m speaking to,” said Hakstol. “We want to push and push hard, but we also have to be real smart in the way we’re playing.”
For players who haven’t produced that can also become easy to get too into their own heads. Joonas Donskoi entered Sunday still without a goal; that’s a prime example of when pressing can become a problem, especially when goals are not falling early.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot actually,” he said before the game Friday. “Like why it is and what I could do better mentally to not think about it and just play the game.”
In the six defeats heading into Sunday, the Kraken had trailed over the previous 260:16, not having led in a game since Yanni Gourde gave Seattle a 2-1 lead with 31 seconds to go in the second period in Las Vegas. The Kraken surrendered the lead 15 seconds later and haven’t led since.
In the six losses heading into Sunday night, eight of the Kraken’s 17 goals had come after they already trailed by two goals. They were 0-6 in two-goal games. They hadn’t even played in a one-goal game since the crushing loss in Arizona that began the streak.
“I think even mentally, just our timing on some of the goals we’ve given up have been really hard lately,” Kraken defenseman Carson Soucy said earlier this week. “With Arizona we get off to a lead and then they come back, and we get one in Vegas and have a lead going late into the first and second periods. … I think that’s mentally not being able to close out periods, and that hurt us.”
Kraken captain Mark Giordano was a part of a nine-game losing streak in Calgary in 2010 and eight games in 2014. He’s also been a part of a pair of seven-game losing streaks, and eight losing streaks of six games or more in his career.
He knows it takes just one game to get out of it.
“I’ve gone through some losing streaks in my career where the mindset is, guys are trying to do the right things, but guys are mentally overthinking things a little bit,” said Giordano. “You just have to find a way to get one. I’m telling you, once we get that one, it’s gonna loosen guys up a bunch.”
Some of the recent game stats are also misleading. Before the Capitals game, Hakstol mentioned the scoring picking up. On paper that’s true, but of the 17 goals in six games, they scored five of them between a game where they trailed 3-0 with 5:30 to go and 7-0 with 10 minutes to go. They haven’t scored in the first 50 minutes of play in the past two games going into Sunday.
The value of those goals isn’t the same as scoring early, and not having to, as the players call it, chase the game.
“I think it’s been mentally tough and frustrating,” said Marcus Johansson, “…. When you’re down three goals, eventually you have to start chasing a little bit, but when you’re down earlier in games, we’ve gotten away from our game.”
- Grubauer started against his former team after not starting Friday. … It was the first time all season Hakstol kept his skater lineup the same as the previous game.