Following a day off after the team’s home opener against the Vancouver Canucks, the Kraken returned to the ice at Climate Pledge Arena for their first ever practice inside the brand-new building. The practice was an important opportunity to work on their game and continue to adjust to their new home ice ahead of tomorrow’s matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.
Below are some of my observations from today’s Kraken practice and subsequent media availability:
Adding The Pieces
After a pair of ugly losses to close out their first road trip, it was clear that the Kraken had a lot of elements to their game that needed improvement. When the Kraken returned home for a couple days of practice prior to their home opener, Kraken coach Dave Hakstol prioritized the transition game, which he felt was lacking toward the end of the road trip. In those practices, the Kraken worked hard at shoring up their biggest area of concern. When the team hit the ice for Saturday’s home opener, it became evident that the practice had paid off. By all accounts, Seattle’s transition game was much improved against Vancouver. They attacked with speed throughout the game and limited Vancouver’s scoring opportunities off the rush. That said, with game resulting in a 4-2 loss, it’s clear that there’s still more work to be done to fully build the team’s identity. In his post-practice media availability, Hakstol hinted at a couple items that may be next on his triage list.
While Hakstol has said repeatedly that Saturday’s game was a step in the right direction, he did acknowledge that “there’s still some pieces that we have to add.” When asked what those pieces are, Hakstol highlighted quicker starts and special teams. While he called Saturday’s start “ok”, Hakstol felt that the Kraken didn’t tilt the ice in their favor until the second period. Faster starts, especially at home, make sense as a priority. While the Climate Pledge Arena crowd was plenty loud on Saturday, an earlier goal would have done a better job of harnessing that home ice energy and using it to the team’s advantage. As for the special teams, Hakstol pointed out that while the Kraken’s first goal was powerplay-influenced, the Kraken ended up losing the special teams battle against the Canucks 1-0. For a team that’s going to play in a lot of close games this season, the powerplay and penalty kill will often make the difference between leading and trailing. The Kraken are 0-3-1 this season when they don’t win the special teams battle and 1-1-0 when they do.
More Lineup Changes
As part of the tweaks being made to get the team on the right track, the Kraken made some more changes to their forward lines and defense pairs in practice today. Here are the line rushes:
While the first forward line remains intact, the other three have undergone some changes. Joonas Donskoi moves up to the second line with Alex Wennberg and Jordan Eberle, while Jared McCann now centers a very different looking third line with Brandon Tanev and Mason Appleton. Riley Sheahan and Nathan Bastian are now joined by Ryan Donato on the fourth line, while Morgan Geekie appears to be the odd forward out for now.
While I don’t mind seeing Donskoi with Wennberg and Eberle, the third and fourth lines seem odd to me. I like the idea of Jared McCann playing third line center, but putting a finisher like McCann on a line without any high-end passers is a bit puzzling. That said, Tanev and Appleton are both capable of using their physicality to create space in the offensive zone, space that McCann could use to unleash his excellent shot. File this line under “crazy enough that it just might work.” As for Donato on the fourth line, I’m not a fan. This is the same trap that Donato’s coaches have fallen into in the past. You want to get him in the lineup, but the only spot seemingly available for him is on the fourth line. Donato has shown many times that he can be a valuable player, but he needs to be playing with skilled players in the top-6 to get the most out of his game.
Moving to the defense pairs, the lone change was swapping Haydn Fleury in and Carson Soucy out as Vince Dunn’s D partner. I have no issue with this. Soucy and Fleury have both played well in that spot and getting them both into games is probably beneficial in the long run.
Arena Ice Still A “Work In Progress”
With today being only the second day the Kraken have spent at Climate Pledge Arena, the team is still getting used to the facility that will host their home games for many years to come. When talking about adjustments to the new arena, one factor emerged today when hearing from the players: the ice. Jordan Eberle mentioned the importance of getting used to the ice at Climate Pledge Arena. He called the ice “snowy” and “a little slow.” Eberle added that it’s more of an issue with new ice than anything specific to the Kraken’s arena, pointing out that the team had the same problem with the newer ice at Rogers Place in Edmonton during the preseason.
Jaden Schwartz echoed Eberle’s sentiment about the ice, pointing out the Coldplay concert the night before the game and calling the ice a “work in progress.” That said, Schwartz did acknowledge that for NHL players, perfect ice can be an elusive goal no matter the venue: “I think anywhere you play, any player will always say the ice can be a little bit better.”
Get The Defensemen Moving
Both of the Kraken’s goals in their home opener came from defensemen; the first from Vince Dunn off a point shot and the second from Mark Giordano on the rush. Playing to their strengths, the Kraken continued to work on encouraging the defensemen to contribute offensively in practice today. Coach Hakstol urged the defensemen to move around in the offensive zone to open up new shooting lanes and make themselves more difficult to defend. Kraken forwards were also encouraged to use the points when doing 5-on-5 and 6-on-5 drills. Given this emphasis, expect to see the trend of Seattle defensemen contributing offensively to continue.
A Rematch 102 Years In The Making
After the Kraken’s media availability ended, I walked back to the main concourse as the Montreal Canadiens took the ice for their practice. Looking at those red jerseys on the ice, I took a moment to reflect on the fact that the last meaningful game the Habs played on Seattle ice was over a century ago, in the 1919 Stanley Cup Final against the Seattle Metropolitans. Unfortunately, the end of the series was canceled due to the Spanish Flu Pandemic and the two teams never met again. Might the Kraken choose a game against the NHL’s most storied franchise to pay tribute to the Seattle Metropolitans and their own hockey history? I would think so. The speculation I heard around the rink today was that the Kraken were going to lean heavily into the history aspect for tomorrow’s game presentation. Will the Kraken raise a Seattle Metropolitans 1917 Stanley Cup Champions banner? We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.