Apparently having your top players in the lineup is helpful after all. On Tuesday, Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol held Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle, Jaden Schwartz, Mark Giordano, and Philipp Grubauer out of the lineup—standard practice for any team in preseason—and the result was unsurprisingly a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. On Wednesday, the Kraken dressed those top players, and the result was a good, even battle with the Calgary Flames that ended in a 4-3 shootout win for Seattle.
Here are our takeaways from the Kraken’s third preseason game.
Takeaway #1: Seattle might have something cooking with its top line
So about that Eberle-McCann-Schwartz line…
There’s some obvious chemistry forming here, which bodes well for the Kraken. When the top-scoring trio was on the ice Wednesday, the pace and the passing seemed to ratchet up a notch and went up even higher when they got out there at the same time as the top defensive pairing of Giordano and Adam Larsson.
On the first goal, just three minutes into the game, Cale Fleury made a nice stretch pass from the defensive zone to Schwartz near the far blue line. Schwartz, while falling, found McCann who carried it into the zone, then dished to Giordano who was streaking into the slot. Giordano slipped one through the wickets of Dan Vladar, and the home Calgary faithful went giddy for their beloved Gio.
It was a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play that allowed Seattle to go from regrouping in its own zone to scoring at the other end in about five seconds.
In the third period, with the game level at two goals apiece and the teams playing at four-on-four, Eberle picked off an errant Michael Stone pass behind Calgary’s goal line and immediately found an open Schwartz in the slot, who buried his second of the game. That sequence took two seconds.
There was almost a third goal by Schwartz, which also would have been assisted by Eberle, but Vladar robbed Schwartz of the hat trick with a desperation toe save.
There’s bound to be some line shuffling throughout the course of the season, but Hakstol has to like what he has seen in two games from McCann, Eberle, and Schwartz. It will be interesting to watch if he continues to play them together for these last three preseason games—when they’re all in the lineup, that is—or if he moves any of them around to see how the chemistry might look with other mixes.
Takeaway #2: Seattle could use some work on three-on-three
The game in general looked a bit sloppy Wednesday, as is often the case in contests that feature just 43 combined shots on goal between the two teams. When we got to three-on-three overtime, we were expecting to see the high-octane, flowing brand of hockey that we’ve become accustomed to in past regular seasons.
That isn’t what we got, and it was a reminder that although we are a full week into training camp, the Kraken have really only had a few days of practice. And with the squad split into two groups, Hakstol and his staff have spent very little time on the finer details like special teams and three-on-three.
It’s also a stark reminder that Seattle has a unique challenge in that it has never done any of this before. Hakstol has maintained that every year poses similar challenges, because every team is—in a way—starting over and building something from scratch. But other teams have the luxury of familiarity between most of the players and usually between the players and the coaches. The Kraken have no such luxuries, so they will need to continue to ramp up quickly as we approach opening night just 12 days from now.
Takeaway #3: Don’t cross check guys
In yesterday’s NHL, cross checking was easily the most frequently committed offense that got penalized with the least frequency. Did that make sense? What I’m trying to say is that players got away with cross checking all the time as recently as last season.
The NHL has decided to crack down on cross checking this season, and we’ve already seen it called a handful of times in the Kraken’s three preseason games, including once for each team in Wednesday’s game.
The change evokes memories of the period after the NHL returned from the 2004-05 lockout and decided that the clutch-and-grab era was officially over. Suddenly every stick infraction made through the neutral zone—remember, in the clutch-and-grab era, there was a stick infraction made on every trip through the neutral zone—was penalized.
History has proven that players will eventually adjust and stop cross checking guys in the lower back when they’re already down on the ice or hitting them so hard with the shaft of the stick that they topple over. But that will take time, so for now, expect a lot more of these calls to be made.
Darren Brown is the Chief Content Officer at Sound Of Hockey and the host, producer, and editor of the Sound Of Hockey Podcast. He is an inconsistent beer league goalie who believes that five players have to make a mistake before the puck gets to him. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenFunBrown or email firstname.lastname@example.org.