The next 19 days will provide a long path to the Seattle Kraken attempt at fully going next level: six games, home ice, and no airplanes or hotels.
In a way, it’s much needed reprieve from the previous tests, most recently gutting through three games in five days. In between stops at Calgary, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh, there were no losses, and three mighty victories to pave the way to a 7-4-2 record, and second place in the Pacific Division.
Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol refused to identify any satisfaction with the record, more so with a verbal indication the future was the most important thing, instead of what’s already happened.
“I said to start the year we wanted to make sure we were ready to compete and win hockey games,” Hakstol said. “For the most part, we’ve been that. We’ve let a couple slip away early, but we’ve been in the fight every single night.”
“We’re finding ways to win.”
A 40-minute practice, the first the Kraken have skated through in a week due to a high volume of road games, will be followed by home dates with the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks.
They are two games away from finishing a stretch of ten games in 15 days against opponents who made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year.
JARED McCANN PROGRESS
Part of what makes the start so impressive is the absence of Jared McCann. It’s not as if the Kraken offense hinges in last season’s leading goal scorer, who signed a five-year extension before the end of last season. They have Andre Burakovsky and Jaden Schwartz leading the way with ten points, while Schwartz and Matty Beniers are tied with McCann, scoring five goals, for the lead in goal scoring production.
Missing the last two games due to a lower body injury, the Kraken have still found ways to fill the net with seven combined goals against Minnesota and Pittsburgh. For the most part, the lineup has gone unchanged, and Karson Kuhlman jumped in to fill a spot on the line usually occupied by McCann, or in the last two games, Shane Wright.
With Jaden Schwartz not skating as per customary practice last few weeks, a likely placeholder spot on that line was taken up by Shane Wright, who has appeared in each of the last two games.
McCann’s status, day-to-day, remained the same heading into Monday night according to Hakstol.
It’s not clear where the Kraken would be at this point without the stellar play of Martin Jones. At the end of last season following a tough season in Philadelphia, his journey’s next stop was uncertain with pending free agency.
Were his best days behind him at age 32?
Jones is doing his best to ensure that theory is bunk, with visible work from the outset of the season, not just a two-week sample.
“For me Jonesy’s been right from day one of camp,” said Hakstol.
“For me it’s his consistency, he’s a calm presence out there, he’s a big goaltender so he’s not overactive. But overall, he’s had that calming presence for our group. In some of the wins of late, he’s made the timely, big save.”
Jones will likely be carrying a bulk of the goaltending workload until late this month, with Philipp Grubauer still recovering from a lower body injury. Since October 25, his numbers have been lights out: a .937 save percentage, a 1.61 goals-against-average, a 4-1 record, and one shutout.
The 6-foot-4 netminder is playing in the busiest workload of his career in two years: he’s appeared in eight of nine games, last punching in the clock that much from Mar. 29 through Apr. 19 during the pandemic shortened season when he went 5-5-1 during a 12-game stretch when he only sat out once.
It’s often said in the NHL that the “haves” and “have nots” are usually separated in a period from between Thanksgiving until Christmas, typically 25 games. The Kraken are almost halfway to that point, and have begun to forge a new reputation in two areas:
A potent offense, where they are tied for ninth in goals per game (3.4), and a stubborn road team, where nobody has more than their 11 points (5-1-1) except for the Vegas Golden Knights.
They will have plenty of time to sharpen the home side, where they are 2-3-1. It means a loud home ice advantage, a routine at home, and less travel wear and tear.
It also means a different way of life, versus a demanding but simplified routine of road travel, hopping from hotel to hotel as a band of over 20 players. Hakstol preferred to illustrate the caution of changing routines, rather than advantage of home ice.
“It’s a different rhythm so we have to adjust to that rhythm,” Hakstol said.
“It’s really important to be ready to take advantage of home games. We’ve proven we can go out and win on the road, and we’ve done a good job of that. We’ve won some big games at home, now we’ve got to be excited for that opportunity.”
With everyone awakening out of their own home beds, the combined record of the next six Kraken opponents:
33-32-10 – clocking in at a .507 percentage.
KRAKEN PRACTICE LINEUP: NOV. 7:
McCann (swapping with Kuhlman)