Practice Notes: Wennberg rising, Appleton closer to return

Vancouver Canucks v Seattle Kraken

SPOKANE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 26: Mason Appleton #22 of the Seattle Kraken pauses during action against the Vancouver Canucks in the second period during a preseason game at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on September 26, 2021 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)Photo: Getty Images

Tuesday’s practice for the Seattle Kraken, starting with a sight that nobody has seen for weeks, provided progress to a healthier lineup at Kraken Community Iceplex with one final tune-up before their next obstacle, the Chicago Blackhawks, Wednesday night at Climate Pledge Arena.

We have a Mason Appleton sighting.

(Appleton separate from main group)


Power play units:
#1: Johansson (front of the net), Eberle, Donskoi, Wennberg, Giordano (point)
#2: Schwartz (front of the net), Geekie, Donato, McCann, Dunn (point)

Appleton made progress in his return from a lower body injury that has him sidelined since a 5-1 Kraken win vs. Montreal on Oct. 26, when he was hauled down by Sami Niku in the second period and did not return.

Though Appleton didn’t skate with the main group, his return to the ice in a white #22 jersey before the official start marked the next step potentially in his return to the lineup, where the Kraken have been without his right handed shot and speed at the wing, but also with past versatility to play center.

Head coach Dave Hakstol had no definite timeline on Appleton’s return.

“We’re getting closer,” said Hakstol. “That was a really good sign to see him on the ice today and him do as much as he did. We’ll see how that reacts and where we’re at tomorrow morning, and take the next step from there.”

Appleton, coming off a 12-goal season with Winnipeg, has an assist in seven games with the Kraken, primarily deployed as a right wing. A further look inside via indicates Appleton has been involved with four “high danger” scoring chances with five hits and four blocked shots.

“With the lower body injury I’ve had, it takes time to get back,” said Appleton. “You’ve got to take your time off the ice and rehab it the right way. You know if you rush something back, it can you hurt yourself in the long run. I’m trying to do my due diligence and rehabbing it every day and get back into game shape.”

Preparation for a "good" start in the next game, Wednesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, starts before puck drop. There’s always conventional wisdom suggesting when falling behind and trailing in a game, while the possibility of coming back is still realistic, the odds aren’t in that team’s favor while consuming energy “chasing” a game. The Kraken haven't deviated, 2-7-0 when surrendering the first goal. It gets harder when trailing after one period: seven games, seven regulation losses, in that situation.

There is belief they are turning the corner, and it starts between the ears.

“(You have to) get out there, have a good practice and prepare yourself mentally for the game ahead,” said forward Brandon Tanev. “Get out there for morning skate, get your head in the game, communicate with your teammates, feel the puck, and ultimately get ready for the puck drop.”

Hakstol said the core values behind that objective are firmly placed in routine.

“Just reminding ourselves to be good pros,” said Hakstol. “There’s a reason we do things and a reason for everything that’s on the schedule. (What Tanev was talking about) was just being a good pro and taking advantage of that, and making sure that piece of your preparation is in place. That empowers you going into a game.”

Hakstol said there is a changing definition, game-by-game, for a good start – from puck possession to momentum.

“It comes down to little things,” said Hakstol. “I didn’t think we started many shifts (against Minnesota, last Saturday) with the puck, our line changes weren’t as sharp as they could be, in our home building, and we weren’t table to generate a whole lot. We didn’t give up a lot, but we still gave up two or three good scoring chances against. We ended up not gaining the lead.”

“You want to start the game ready. With the type of atmosphere (at home), it’s a huge benefit if we can get out to a good start and have our crowd involved.”

Coming off a ten game stretch where he accumulated three points, Alex Wennberg is now just a goal or assist shy of the team scoring lead (held by Jordan Eberle with 12 points), accelerating his pace to now become the leading playmaker statistically on the Kraken with nine assists.

A five-game point streak has cured those very-early season ails, where if 11 points in 15 points games holds up at a constant pace, he’s on track for new career-highs in assists (49) and points (60).

“I feel like right now it’s about confidence,” said Wennberg. “The points are coming in. Maybe a couple games ago, I played some good games and we didn’t get rewarded, but right now I’m not trying to overthink it. I’m here to score some points and contribute offensively. But I need to step up my game defensively.”

He’s got 17 goals in 52 games (last season with Florida) on his resume. So with two goals in 15 games, but racking up those nine assists, what’s the priority: shooting or passing?

Wennberg said it's "passing" for his instinct.

“Someone has to set up the goals,” said Wennberg, who centered Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle at practice. “Obviously if I’m coming with an opportunity, and it’s right there, I’ll shoot the puck. But if I have a better chance to pass it where the percentage of scoring is higher, I’ll try to make that play. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

“You’ve got to trust your instincts.”

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