The Seattle Kraken returned to practice on Wednesday at Kraken Community Iceplex with heavy emphasis in a 40-minute session on special teams, mere hours before a scheduled flight off to three stops in Canada and a quick return home by next Tuesday.
By switching up personnel, their hope is the power play numbers take flight after Monday.
“We didn’t like our power play on that particular night,” said head coach Dave Hakstol, referencing a loss to Toronto two days ago when the Kraken gave up a shorthanded goal and came up empty on three chances before Jared McCann’s third period snipe, completing a 1-of-4 effort.
“It was nice we got one at the end,” said Hakstol. “Maybe that loosens us up a little. In general, we’ve been creating opportunities. The finish was not there.”
Before McCann’s third period power play goal when he broke the team’s four-game drought (previously three in the last 44 opportunities), became the first player in Kraken history to reach the 20-goal plateau, and hit a new career high, the Kraken recently deployed two units on a man advantage:
Defenseman Mark Giordano quarterbacked one unit as a point man with four forwards – Jordan Eberle, McCann, Calle Jarnkrok and Marcus Johansson. Defenseman Vince Dunn took the point man spot on the second unit, along with Yanni Gourde, Austin Czarnik, Ryan Donato, and Alex Wennberg.
Wednesday’s practice featured an element of change: Czarnik replaced by Mason Appleton, and Wennberg and McCann switching units – transferring McCann’s Kraken-leading 11 power play points to play with new personnel. The move placed Wennberg with All-Star Jordan Eberle and Giordano, the latter leading all Kraken defensemen with eight points on the power play.
“A couple tweaks today, now the onus is on us to give these two units consistency and time to gel and see if they can produce for us,” said Hakstol. “They’re well thought out units; guys are in their right spots. Now, we’ve got to give those guys an opportunity to go out, execute, and build some chemistry.”
Starting Thursday, the Kraken will take on the challenge of playing four games in six days, starting with Thursday’s first-ever visit to Winnipeg which will see Mason Appleton facing his former teammates. Another reunion of sorts is in order Saturday, when Mark Giordano visits Calgary for his first regular season visit since the Kraken took him in last summer’s expansion draft.
Monday’s visit to the Vancouver Canucks will offer little to no rest for the weary: a Tuesday night home game immediately follows against the New York Islanders.
The road has been a tough place to play overall in season number one, with the Kraken managing a 7-13-2 record and 16 points, tied with New Jersey for 30th. Only Montreal has fewer points (12) on the road.
However, on the last trip, an elating and potentially revelation-filled 4-3 win at Anaheim last Friday delivered plenty of messaging with the winning formula.
“Our last couple of road games have been pretty good,” said Dunn. “That road trip even before the break, we were happy with a lot of our games.”
“When we’re not playing that game (like in Anaheim) for three periods, and not playing that game consistently, we’re not liking our results,” said Appleton. “We’ve kind of teetered-tottered with that game, and a run-and-gun game – that doesn’t work for us. We’ve got to play to our identity to have a successful road trip.”
Against the Jets, Flames and Canucks, the Kraken were quick to address puck management as a common core value – all three opponents rank in the upper half of the NHL in shots per game. Calgary, winners of seven in a row and hosting the Kraken on Saturday, have the second most shots per game (36) and the second largest shot differential (+313).
“It starts with the puck on your stick, manage the play, not turn pucks over,” said Appleton. “We can’t feed their transition – play pucks below their goal line and hold pucks down there. If you’re doing that offensively, they’re not on the attack.”
Colin Blackwell, last seen in Friday’s victory over Anaheim but off the ice for Saturday’s skills event and sitting out Monday’s loss to Toronto with what Hakstol said was an undisclosed “day-to-day” status, returned to skate on Wednesday alongside linemates Riley Sheahan and Austin Czarnik for five-on-five drills.
Defenseman Carson Soucy, missing the last seven games due to a lower body ailment suffered in a win against the Florida Panthers on Jan. 23, continued to skate with the main group while operating as a defensive partner for Will Borgen in Wednesday’s practice.
“He’s available now,” said Hakstol. “As we make our lineup decisions tomorrow, that doesn’t mean he’ll be in but I expect him to be, in terms of health, I expect him to be available.”
Up front, center Alex Wennberg was showcased with new linemates, Marcus Johansson and Jordan Eberle. With McCann, Kraken leading scorer, displaced from that line, he took drills in a new look with Ryan Donato and Joonas Donskoi.
“Things got a little stale with a couple of our groups,” said Hakstol. “(This was) just to give it a little different look, freshen it up a little, and to see if that can spark a little more – not just the offensive but also the defensive side.”
KRAKEN PRACTICE LINEUP: FEB. 16