When the Kraken played the Kings on Nov. 29 in Los Angeles, Seattle skated to a mind-bending 9-8 victory in a game that featured oodles of offense and zero defense. Saturday’s game at Climate Pledge Arena was the exact opposite, perhaps the tightest-checking game we’ve ever seen Seattle play.
Through 40 minutes, there was almost nothing happening offensively at either end of the ice. Both clubs did a great job of clogging up the neutral zone, and once it got into either offensive zone, there was just no room to work the puck inside. Shots either came from the perimeter or got blocked or deflected.
In the end, the game came down to one bad bounce and one bad mistake. Here are our Three Takeaways from a hard-fought 3-1 Kraken loss to the Kings.
Takeaway #1: A bad bounce
This game had the feel that the first team to score would have an enormous advantage. That came to fruition after Sean Durzi got a fortuitous bounce and found himself all alone on the doorstep next to Martin Jones.
Late in the second period, with the score still 0-0, Durzi—a defenseman—was the first forechecker into the Kraken zone. Behind the net, he managed to poke the puck around the wall, but when he did so, he blew a tire and crashed hard into the end wall. Kraken defenders seemed to assume he was neutralized, so they let him be.
The puck swung around to Alex Iafallo, who loaded up at the top of the slot. McCann did exactly what he was supposed to do, lunging and deflecting the shot. But rather than ramping up over the net, as deflected shots often do, it skittered right to Durzi, who had recovered just in time for an easy tap-in goal.
“There’s a bounce of a puck on that play, but you always look at what you can do a little bit better,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “We can close a little bit quicker, and we can be in a little bit better spots.”
That’s a tough break. You’re defending so well, and even on a play that your forward blocks a shot, the outcome is an easy goal against.
Takeaway #2: A costly mistake
Considering how difficult it was for either team to get on the board with one goal, a second goal against made Seattle’s climb to get back in the game monumental.
Five minutes into the third period, the Kraken had shifted their approach a bit. Down 1-0, they were getting extended offensive zone time at five-on-five for the first time all game, and it felt like an equalizer could be on the horizon.
But Brandon Tanev, playing in career game No. 400, took a rim-around pass from Jones and started to skate the puck out of the zone. He slowed down ever so slightly as he prepared to make a stretch pass and didn’t sense the back-pressure coming from Carl Grundstrom.
The sneaky Grundstrom picked Tanev’s pocket and turned the play around in an instant, sniping a nice shot into the corner of the net.
“Mistakes are part of the game, right?” said Hakstol. “Each of the goals that were scored tonight, there was a good play on one side probably a mistake on the other.”
To Seattle’s credit, the group didn’t give up and finally got on the board at 8:25 of the third with a power-play goal. The red-hot Daniel Sprong fired a hard shot that bounced off goalie Pheonix Copley and just missed going in. But LA’s clearing attempt went onto Oliver Bjorkstrand’s tape in the slot, and he had an easy goal.
That got Seattle back within one, but sure enough, the deficit proved to be too much to overcome against the air-tight Los Angeles defense and strong performance of Copley.
“There’s going to be games like that,” said Bjorkstrand. “You’ve gotta be comfortable playing those types of games. So, yeah, be patient, and when you get the chances, you just have to bury them.”
Takeaway #3: Tough sledding, but lots to like
The outcome is disappointing for the Kraken, who still have work to do to clinch their first playoff berth. One thing to consider, though, is that as they head down this final stretch, Seattle has a weak schedule remaining, with the exception of the last two games against Vegas.
Offensively, the Kraken didn’t do enough Saturday, but defensively they were excellent. That style of hockey wins you a lot of games in the NHL, especially if you’re playing weaker opponents. So, if they can replicate that effort every night the rest of the way, they should cruise easily into a playoff berth.
“We’re not going to break this one down into little bits and pieces,” said Hakstol. “We’re going to take some— two or three of the obvious takeaways and get going moving forward.”
Three Takeaways, you say?! We digress.
After the loss, Seattle’s lead is three points over Winnipeg for the top wild card spot, five points over Calgary for the last playoff spot, and six points over Nashville. The Kraken also have a game in hand over Winnipeg and Calgary and have seven games left to play.
Not to nitpick – and the Kraken are obviously in very good position to make the playoffs – but you can add Vancouver to the “tough” games remaining. Not only have we always had trouble with them, last month they went 10-5 and knocked off Toronto, a then hot Nashville, Dallas twice, and the Kings.
Game specifics aside for the moment, the Kraken bother me. I don’t sense a hunger and focus to clinch the post-season berth. They seem to lack puck hunger and their stick handling sometimes indicates a lacking focus. The goalkeeping, while occasionally inspiring, is inconsistent and leaky resulting in regular answer goals at bad times. They may survive to the playoffs but I’m prepared for a short series. This team has slipped from first place in the division the first half of the campaign. Oh yeah, they have curbed their tendency to overpass in the O zone, but still not enough given the shooting lanes they often pass up. Passivity on the ice is a recipe for disappointment in the playoffs.