Watching Kraken games lately, it’s tough to miss them usually spending the final minutes with an empty net and six attackers trying to score against five opponents.

For fans new to hockey, 6-on-5 play late in games isn’t what any team wants much repetition at. But the Kraken are fast becoming experts, having pulled the goalie late in half of their 16 games in a desperate bid to tie the score.

Unlike regular 5-on-4 power plays, there’s less room on the ice to move the puck around at 6-on-5, because the opposing team is still at full strength.

“You never see a pretty 6-on-5,” Kraken leading scorer Jordan Eberle said. “It’s chaos. You throw pucks at nets and you try to get tips, try to get a rebound.

“It’s kind of your last-ditch effort to get as many shots or attempts as you can and try to score. It’s a position you never want to be in. But we’ve been in quite a bit lately.”

Indeed, the Kraken have pulled the goalie late in each of their past five games — all losses that sent them tumbling to 4-11-1 entering Friday’s home contest against Colorado. Of eight games in which they’ve emptied their net in the dying minutes, the Kraken have scored in two.


The most recent example came Wednesday night against Chicago when, trailing 3-1, they lifted goalie Philipp Grubauer and got a Yanni Gourde goal to draw within one. And the Kraken nearly scored a second time at 6-on-5, only to be stonewalled by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Blackhawks finally ended things by scoring on the empty Kraken net.

The only other time the Kraken scored late in 6-on-5 play was when Mark Giordano notched a tying goal Nov. 6 at Arizona. But the Coyotes scored the eventual game winner seconds later.

Overall, the Kraken have scored twice but allowed seven with their net empty — two of those against coming in the same game vs. Anaheim. 

Still, there is rationale for attempting to pull the goalie at even strength. Studies by the Evolving Hockey analytical website have shown the goal-scoring rate in 6-on-5 situations is almost identical to that of a regular 5-on-4 power play.

The problem becomes the open net at the other end, which makes it much easier for opponents to score short-handed than in a regular 5-on-4 penalty-killing situation. Still, despite the chaotic nature of 6-on-5 advantages, the Kraken actually devoted part of Tuesday’s practice to it. The work paid off briefly against the Blackhawks before they popped the empty-netter.


“I’ve always found 6-on-5 hard to work on in practice, too, because you don’t want to hurt guys,” Eberle said. “And in 6-on-5 you just want to shoot as many as you can and get as many chances as you can and try to overwhelm them in front of the net. And create a rebound or something like that.”

Teams defending in 6-on-5 situations usually leave one man up high and keep the other four players near the net to avoid leaving open attackers in high-danger areas. That’s why there’s more hurried shooting from the point — through attempted screens — in 6-on-5 play than the controlled passing and puck possession of regular power plays.

Gourde’s goal Wednesday was unusual in that the Kraken threw the puck around and found him alone down low for a one-timed slap shot.

“Those are really rare where you get the tic-tac-toe one-timer,” Eberle said. “Those don’t usually happen.”

Kraken forward Ryan Donato was on the ice Wednesday for a Jared McCann power-play goal with just under six minutes to play. Donato was also on for Gourde’s goal at 6-on-5 and said there’s usually a noticeable difference in the types of man-advantages.

“It’s definitely less pace, less moving around,” Donato said of 6-on-5 play. “You’re definitely not hitting as many (passing) seams. I feel like the difference between 6-on-5 and the power play is, the power play you usually work the puck around and find a shot. And 6-on-5, you’re just trying to get pucks to the net, recover pucks and get any chance you can really get.”


Kraken coach Dave Hakstol mostly uses the same personnel for 6-on-5 play as he would a regular power play. But their roles change slightly, and puck retrieval skill becomes important — whether gaining control off faceoffs, picking up rebounds or dumping the puck into the zone and chasing after it.

After all, fail to retrieve the puck, and it could wind up in your team’s open net.

Most teams used to wait until the final 90 seconds of play to pull their goalie. But analytical studies have shown it pays to do it sooner — especially when down two goals — and Hakstol hasn’t hesitated to pull his with four or five minutes remaining.

“There’s partly what the statistics say … but an equal factor for me is what’s happening in that particular game,” Hakstol said. 

He’ll look at the game’s flow. And whether his team is already generating enough opportunities at even strength. But sometimes, with long stretches between whistles, there might not be a perfect time to pull the goalie and he’ll just chance it.

The Kraken got burned for an empty-net goal against Anaheim last week when they turned the puck over on a line change just as Grubauer was headed to the bench. But on Wednesday with his team down two, Hakstol found a more ideal situation to pull Grubauer, and it nearly paid off.

“The execution was good,” Hakstol said. “And then, as we got it down to the one goal, there was a great deal of confidence that we would be able to go out and find that tying goal.”

Practice makes perfect, as they say, and the Kraken sure are getting a lot of it. But unlike their slowly improving power play, the newfound 6-on-5 prowess isn’t something they hope for more in-game work on anytime soon.