Hockey’s version of a train wreck comes smoldering into town Wednesday night, right when the Kraken could use a reeling opponent to help get back on their own set of tracks.
The Chicago Blackhawks making a debut visit to Climate Pledge Arena would ordinarily provide cause for celebration; they’ve recently been the most successful “Original Six” team with three Stanley Cup titles between 2010 and 2015. But the 95-year-old franchise of legends Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito has taken a horrific tumble in recent weeks, with fallout from a sexual-assault scandal that has left an indelible scar on a team boasting one of the sport’s most knowledgeable and passionate fan bases.
Chicago’s on-ice fortunes haven’t been great, either, with the team languishing among the NHL’s worst at 4-9-2 even after three consecutive one-goal victories. And that opens the door for the Kraken — losers of four in a row — to jump-start their 4-10-1 mark ahead of a string of games against playoff teams from last season.
“There are little details that we want to clean up,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said Tuesday. “Right now we’re playing pretty good hockey, and we haven’t had any results to show for it. So we have to really focus on some of the little details that we can clean up without taking away our competitive spirit and all of those things that are very, very important to maintain.”
Some of those details involve defensive miscues in high-danger areas. The Kraken have also not started well their past two games, nor received the type of consistent goaltending that might steal a win someplace.
Kraken defenseman Adam Larsson said the blue-line core will look to keep opposing forwards to the outside more to limit high-danger chances.
“We’ve had some games where we’ve given up seven shots in the first two periods, so I don’t think we have to change a whole lot,” Larsson said. “It’s just more of where we’re giving up the chances. I think collectively we can all do a little bit better job of that.”
The positive play alluded to by Hakstol includes the Kraken scoring more often, attaining greater puck possession and finally clicking for goals on the power play in recent games.
And off the ice, the Kraken have had nothing comparable to what the Blackhawks have dealt with following a report on how the team handled a 2010 sexual-assault complaint against then-video coach Brad Aldrich.
The Blackhawks might be the first team in NHL history responsible for departures of two head coaches and one general manager in under two weeks. GM Stan Bowman resigned Oct. 26 after an independent investigation commissioned by the Blackhawks found that senior executives covered up complaints levied against Aldrich by then-prospect Kyle Beach during the 2010 playoffs.
A few days later, former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville — who had moved on to coach the Florida Panthers — resigned as well. And though he had nothing to do with the 2010 case, the coach who replaced Quenneville in Chicago in November 2018, Jeremy Colliton, was fired Nov. 6 for failing to move the on-ice needle enough.
It didn’t help that current Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a core member of the Cup-winning teams built by Bowman, was roundly criticized for defending the former GM after his resignation.
The report on the Aldrich scandal suggested Quenneville and senior executives wanted to shelve further investigation of the complaints against Aldrich until after Chicago played Philadelphia in the 2010 Final. The Blackhawks hadn’t won a Cup since 1961, and the resulting championship engendered celebrations across multiple hockey generations in that city.
But that 2010 victory and those in 2013 and 2015 are now greatly overshadowed.
Against that backdrop, the struggles of new Blackhawks goalie and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury since his trade last summer from Vegas seem trivial. Fleury has improved in recent games, meaning the Kraken will likely need to start quicker than in home losses last week to keep the Blackhawks from gathering momentum.
“In our building, with the type of atmosphere that we have, it’s a huge benefit if we can get off to a good start and have our crowd involved and have that energy flow right along with us,” Hakstol said. “It’s not going to be easy to do night in and night out. But there’s little pieces in terms of puck possession and momentum, and pushing in the right direction that can set you up for a 60-minute effort.”