Sunday’s Seattle Kraken practice was a spicy one. Fresh off a 4-1 stinker of a loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, the team went back to work Sunday at Kraken Community Iceplex, looking to find the consistency that has been lacking in its game. The practice had a more serious tone to it than we’ve seen in most on-ice sessions, as coach Dave Hakstol put his players through drills that focused on speed, quick transitions, and battling physically.
For a moment in the middle of the skate, Hakstol was perhaps the most animated we’ve ever seen him. He stopped a drill and waited for complete quiet in the arena before shouting an obscenity-laced monologue that onlooking media heard loud and clear. We will redact the message a bit, but to give you an idea, it very directly challenged Seattle’s shooting mentality and ended with the phrase, “Shoot the f***ing puck!”
“Direct and honest”
Seattle’s coach finished the practice by having his players gather around the center circle, and he slowly drifted around the face-off dot, looking each player in the eye and delivering another message. This speech was in more of a hushed tone, so we can’t tell you what Hakstol said, but it ended with stick taps from the players.
“We worked on things that we have to work at, and we went out and did it at the pace that’s necessary for it to really become ingrained in what we do,” Hakstol said after practice.
Saturday’s performance by the Kraken was disappointing, no doubt. They were coming off two solid games on the road, earning three out of four possible points against Arizona and Colorado. But Seattle laid an egg in the first period at home against an Oilers club that came in struggling so badly that even with a road win, it still fired its head coach, Jay Woodcroft, and assistant coach, Dave Manson, Sunday morning.
“Direct and honest,” Hakstol said about his message to his team Sunday. “As we look at ourselves individually and collectively, if we take that approach, we’re going to be ok. But right now we have work to do, and that’s what the result from last night says is we have work to do.”
Kraken struggling to string wins together
Last season’s Kraken team built its success around win streaks. They had plenty of stretches where they would win one, lose one, win two, lose two. But then they’d suddenly rip off a bunch of wins in a row and vault up the standings.
They ended the season with five separate win streaks of five games or more, with the first coming between Oct. 29 and Nov. 8. Those calendar dates have come and gone in the 2023-24 season, and so far, the Kraken have failed to win more than two straight.
“This is a tough league to string wins together,” Hakstol said. “I stood here yesterday and said we had done a really good job of gaining points in the majority of our last six-to-eight games, and that’s true. But in between, we’ve had the games where we haven’t been competitive on the points, and those points have gone away for free to our opponent. And that can happen.”
In his 11-year NHL career, defenseman Brian Dumoulin has seen plenty of ups and downs, but he can’t pinpoint what has been plaguing the Kraken so far this season.
“It’s a weird situation,” Dumoulin said. “We felt really good about our game in Arizona and also in Colorado, and obviously got the result in Colorado, and coming home we haven’t been great. We definitely spotted [the Oilers] a few goals, and they had a big 10 minutes there, and we kind of lost the game just in that 10 minutes. It’s just a little bit frustrating in that aspect, but we’ve got to believe in ourselves.”
Dumoulin added that he thinks the Kraken players can do a better job of staying in control of their emotions during games and not letting momentum swings impact the way they play.
“Instead of the highs being high and the lows being low, just kind of be even-keel,” Dumoulin said. “Realize if you played well or if you didn’t, and if you got the result or didn’t, just continue with our structure and live shift to shift instead of looking at it game to game.”
Ryan Winterton “making the most” of his call-up
Kraken forward Ryan Winterton, 20, made his NHL debut in Colorado on Thursday. He had been recalled the day before from AHL Coachella Valley after just seven career games of professional hockey. That may sound like a quick timeline, but his arrival at the sport’s highest level has come with some major bumps in the road.
“It’s surreal, for sure,” Winterton said. “I wouldn’t say I’m surprised [to be here], but it’s definitely been a long journey, you know? A bunch of adversity. It hasn’t been the cleanest ride, that’s for sure, but I’m happy I’m here, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
The Markham, Ontario, native has had a challenging development path. Remember, the entire 2020-21 Ontario Hockey League season was nixed due to COVID, and that caused Winterton to drop to the Kraken in the third round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. After getting selected, he then suffered two separate shoulder injuries that limited him to 37 games in 2021-22 and 34 games in 2022-23.
Still, the Kraken organization is clearly high on Winterton’s potential as an NHL player and wasted no time in giving him his first call-up to the big club. Firebirds coach Dan Bylsma delivered the news to Winterton over the phone.
“Coach Bylsma called me when I was— we were preparing for a game that night in Coachella, and I was actually taking my pre-game nap,” Winterton remembered. “He called me twice, so I thought I should answer. He gave me the news, and I’ve never really had a smile like that last so long. I think it was a full 24 hours or longer, so it was pretty cool.”
In his whirlwind scramble to meet the Kraken in Denver, Winterton miscalculated his packing.
“You pack a carry-on, and then you kind of live out of that for as long as I’m here,” Winterton said. “I didn’t really pack for this weather, the cold. I was in California, so it was pretty hot. So, I might have to go shopping today or tomorrow— well, today, because we have a game tomorrow.”
As veterans like Brandon Tanev and Jordan Eberle work their way back from injuries (we expect Tanev to return Monday against Colorado, while Eberle is still at least a game or two away), space will have to be made in Seattle’s lineup. But Winterton survived the “cut” Sunday and was kept with the Kraken, while veteran Devin Shore was reassigned to Coachella Valley.
Interestingly, Winterton skated on a potential “all kids” fourth line Sunday that featured himself, Shane Wright, and Tye Kartye. Whether they stick together for Seattle’s game against the Avalanche remains to be seen, but it is an intriguing mix of young players that could bring a real spark against Colorado’s depth defensive units.
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