That was a truly miserable home opener for the Kraken. After a bad start put them behind the Vegas Golden Knights 2-0 in the first few minutes, Seattle didn’t find its way until the third period when the score was 5-0 and well out of reach.
It was disappointing for fans, surely, who so badly wanted something to cheer about Saturday. By the time the devastating 18-inning Mariners game ended on the other side of town, the Kraken were already down and mostly out. Things largely stayed quiet inside the typically raucous Climate Pledge Arena, as the Golden Knights took care of business and improved their all-time record against the Kraken to 5-0-0.
Here are our Three Takeaways from a tough home opener for the Kraken against the Golden Knights.
Takeaway #1: Are bad starts still a thing?
Bad starts were common for the Kraken last season. So far, in three games, they’ve twice had what we would consider bad starts, giving up a goal 51 seconds into the Anaheim game on Wednesday and one-upping themselves Saturday by allowing Vegas to score just 12 seconds in.
On Wednesday, the Kraken righted the ship quickly against what may be a bad Ducks team, but against the high-flying Golden Knights, Seattle couldn’t figure things out quickly enough to make a real game of it.
“We weren’t sharp with the puck right from the start of the hockey game,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “We were stuck in quicksand for the first 10 minutes of this game and couldn’t get our feet going.” By the time the Kraken registered a shot on goal, they were down 2-0.
Just after the opening face-off, Yanni Gourde was back to retrieve a puck, fanned on his pass and put it onto the stick of William Carrier. Before you could blink, Keegan Kolesar had scored, and the Kraken were chasing the game.
“Obviously, first shift, I got to do a better job,” Gourde said. “I lose that puck, it’s in the back of our net, so kind of killed our legs there a little bit. I’m supposed to be on the ice to bring energy to this team and make the right play. This can’t happen the first shift.”
Vegas followed that up with a Jonathan Marchessault power-play goal three minutes later.
“That kind of set the tone for the game in my opinion,” Jordan Eberle said. “But you should be able to rebound off that and be a mature enough group that if things go wrong, especially in the first eight seconds or whatever it was, we still have three periods pretty much to come back from it, and we just didn’t really have an answer.”
We saw the Kraken bounce back from those starts on a number of occasions last season and on Wednesday, but they didn’t have it Saturday. Being able to overcome an early deficit is really addressing the symptom, though, and not the problem. The problem that needs to get fixed is giving up goals and committing horrendous turnovers seconds into the game.
Takeaway #2: Odd-man rushes galore
When the second period started Saturday, it seemed like the Kraken had abandoned playing to their usual level of structure, and they started turning pucks over constantly. The result for Vegas was too many odd-man rushes to count.
Typically when there are a lot of odd-man rushes at one end of the ice, it means the game has opened up, and there are plenty of counter-attack rushes the other way. But that wasn’t the case Saturday, as Vegas really had the bulk of those opportunities with only a handful going against them.
Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy gave a good explanation for why his squad was so successful at generating those chances. “We were good on the walls,” Cassidy said. “I think that’s where we have the advantage; we’re a bigger team than Seattle. We won our wall battles, and they were pinching down on us. We were able to support from underneath, which is the next part of that. Win your wall battle, support from underneath, now you’re in attack mode. If your D is able to activate, you get some numbers on the rush.”
With the Golden Knights coming in waves, Martin Jones, who was relieved after Seattle had fallen behind 5-0 at the end of the second period, actually did well to keep the Kraken in the game through most of that frame. The wheels came off, though, after Reilly Smith gave the Golden Knights a 3-0 lead on the power play, and that led to two more not-so-good goals against Jones.
From the Seattle perspective on the odd-man rushes, Gourde said Vegas was doing a good job of getting players behind the Kraken’s defense. “They like playing three forwards behind, flip pucks, and they’re off to the races. We got caught having three guys kind of reading what the forecheck was going to be, and when you’re doubting a little bit, you’re slow, and that’s what happened.”
Too many odd-man rushes against is a fixable problem, but it does need to get resolved quickly.
As an aside, this doesn’t quite deserve its own Takeaway, but face-offs were also a big problem Saturday. Seattle won just 29.8 percent of the face-offs, and Hakstol pointed out the team had lost the first nine draws in a row. A bad night in the face-off circle can be overcome with good forechecks and winning battles, but Seattle was nowhere near good enough in those areas of its game to make up for rarely starting with the puck.
Takeaway #3: Any positives?
Always the optimists, we wanted to see if we could come up with any positives to take away from this otherwise stinky pile of a home opener. We did manage to think of a few.
The Kraken looked better in the third period, and they scored a couple goals to give fans a little something to cheer about. It’s possible Vegas had just dialed it back by that point, but still, it’s good to see the team go down fighting in the end.
Justin Schultz scored his first goal as a Kraken, Jaden Schwartz continues contributing—a great sign after he dealt with major injury issues last season—and Matty Beniers got an assist, giving him 13 points in 13 NHL games.
We also liked the play of Philipp Grubauer, who came on in relief in the third period. Grubauer stopped all six of the shots he faced, including a nice right-to-left save to deny a quality two-on-one opportunity. We know six shots isn’t a lot, but it is important that the Kraken get him on the right track, and we aren’t convinced that happened in the first game in Anaheim.
By the way, if you’re wondering if Hakstol regretted handing this start to Jones, he was pretty straightforward when asked about the goaltending after the game. “The right guy started tonight. In fact, he gave us a chance to steal this game with the number of saves he made through the second period. The Marchessault goal obviously is one that he wants back, but Jonesy made a number of saves— had we been able to get one and get going— he kept us in a position to win this hockey game.”