In the run-up to Halloween, watching the Kraken’s four road games against Detroit, Carolina, Florida, and Tampa Bay sometimes felt more like Groundhog Day. It was virtually the same script for each contest; the Kraken would jump out to a two-goal lead, then let it fade away at varying speeds, before the game would come down to the wire and become a 50-50 crapshoot.
Seattle came home with a 2-1-1 record and five standings points in the end, a successful result, especially considering the quality of competition the team faced. Still, there’s work to be done to keep those slip-ups from happening moving forward.
“I’ve been on many teams where it just feels like every game is going to come down to the wire,” Devin Shore said. “You’re scratching and clawing for every point. It’s great to get out to those leads, but all the other 31 teams in the league are getting paid a lot of money to beat us too, so they’re pretty darn good, and they have the ability to come back.”
What linked the four games together so closely was the fact that at some point in each one, Seattle led by the same pesky margin. Seattle isn’t the first team to blow two-goal leads, though, and it won’t be the last.
There has long been a theory that the two-goal lead is the hardest lead in hockey to maintain, but why is that? Shouldn’t a two-goal lead be easier to keep than a one-goal lead?
“It’s probably all mental”
The theory around the two-goal lead usually has to do with how the leading team plays when it gets that extra cushion between itself and its opponent. Whether it’s a shift in mentality or tactics and whether that shift is happening consciously or subconsciously are two topics that are open for debate.
“I think it’s just that you know you have a two-goal lead, and maybe the mind, in a sense, relaxes, I guess,” Oliver Bjorkstrand said. “Maybe you feel a little too comfortable with the lead, and that gives a little bit of an edge to another team to kind of come back. And they get the one, it’s only a one-goal lead. So, I don’t know, it’s probably all mental. I don’t try to think that way.”
From the Kraken perspective, Jamie Oleksiak believes Seattle can keep any lead, but the group needs to re-learn how to avoid letdowns, regardless of the margin on the scoreboard.
“You have to learn how to win as a team,” Oleksiak said. “I think last year, we got used to and comfortable playing with two-goal leads in playoffs, and that’s a big part of it. Because in playoffs you’re playing a lot of one-goal, two-goal games, and I think we definitely got over the hump last year with that.”
Oleksiak also reiterated that this was a positive trip for the team, and that the group made big strides toward finding its game consistently. “It’s still early in the season. I still think we’re kind of building the confidence and whatnot in our game.”
“I don’t buy it”
Not everyone believes in the two-goal lead hypothesis.
“I don’t really buy that, to be honest,” said Shore. “Like, I’ve heard it a lot before, but I’d rather [have] a two-goal lead than a one-goal lead.”
Instead, Shore thought letting two-goal leads slip is just a factor of momentum. He said that when a team is down two and scores to make it a one-goal game, then the momentum has shifted for that team. So, it’s not so much that the trailing team has an advantage when it gets down by two, it’s just that scoring a goal can turn the tide of a game.
“You don’t want that to become too much of a trend. But [comebacks are] gonna happen, and it’s more how you respond and how you stick to playing the right way and not letting it faze you.”
Avoiding the letdowns
Going through game scenarios like this early in the season should help the Kraken down the line. And considering they still managed to come home feeling good about themselves, despite the blown leads in all four games, makes it a relatively inexpensive lesson.
But how does the team avoid these letdowns moving forward?
We heard Jared McCann say during the trip that the Kraken need to keep playing offense in those situations, and Bjorkstrand shared similar sentiments.
“I think we just need to bear down a little bit more and not change the way we play,” Bjorkstrand said. “I mean, we know how we play best, and that’s skating, being aggressive, and battles, all that stuff. So if [we have] a two-goal lead, we’ve got to keep going.”
“Sometimes when you think defense too much, you’re kind of sitting back, and it gives too much space and time for another team.”
Coach Dave Hakstol also offered a simple remedy to the problem for his team. “For us, it’s keep playing the same way and try and make it a three-goal lead, plain and simple.”
Other tidbits: Shore finding a role
Shore, a veteran of 426 NHL games, did not break training camp with the Kraken. Instead, he was placed on waivers and assigned to AHL Coachella Valley to start the season. He wasn’t there long, though, before Brandon Tanev and Andre Burakovsky both went down with long-term injuries, creating a hole in Seattle’s forward corps. Shore got the first call-up of the season.
“It’s a privilege to be up here, and I’m enjoying every second,” Shore said.
After Tanev went down on opening night in Vegas, Tye Kartye slid into his spot after being a healthy scratch against the Golden Knights. Once Burakovsky got hurt, Kartye was elevated to a top-six role, and in came Shore to backfill on the fourth line. He played all four games of the road trip and averaged 8:17 of ice time per game.
“There are a ton of different ways to contribute in a hockey game,” Shore said. “A lot of them are doing the little things and stuff that might go unnoticed by others, but never the guys on the bench, which is really important. But if you can chip in on the score sheet, all the better.”
Shore did that in spectacular fashion against Carolina to get his first goal and point as a Kraken. Bjorkstrand hit him with a 100-foot, waist-high pass that Shore somehow batted down at the blue line, before he raced in, deked, and scored on a breakaway.
Where does that goal rank in terms of the prettiest goals Shore has scored in his career?
“It might be No. 1, for sure,” he said. “They all count as one, though, so I’ll take ’em any way I can get ’em. But it was nice to see that one go in.”
The Kraken open a short two-game homestand Thursday, welcoming the Nashville Predators to Climate Pledge Arena at 7 p.m.
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