Some nights, you just sense an ugly loss coming. Remember, when the Kraken fell to Calgary last Saturday, Nov. 4, the Flames came in on a six-game losing streak. They were desperate, as everyone knew they would be, yet Seattle lacked urgency that night. Against the Edmonton Oilers, who are on “fire their coach” watch and had lost eight of their previous nine games, it was more of the same. This time, a flat Kraken start led to an insurmountable 4-0 deficit after just 20 minutes.
“We didn’t push back and have that shift or that couple of shifts that you need to right the momentum and push back,” said coach Dave Hakstol.
Sure, the pushback (sort of) came in the third, but down four goals, Seattle didn’t give itself a real chance in this one.
It’s never fun to watch these kinds of games that go sideways early. Here are our Three Takeaways from an ugly 4-1 Kraken loss to the Oilers.
Takeaway #1 (Curtis): Net-front defense collapsed in first period
It appeared the Kraken started the game with enough energy to match Edmonton. When Eeli Tolvanen set up Yanni Gourde at 3:45 in the first period for the first Grade-A chance of the game, it looked like Seattle had Edmonton’s forecheck measured and was a step ahead.
The Kraken were knocked on the back foot when a poor pinch by Justin Schultz at 8:40 in the first period allowed an odd-man Edmonton rush that culminated in a spectacular backhand, top-shelf goal by Zach Hyman. Still, given Edmonton’s struggles, a 1-0 deficit seemed fine at the time.
What happened next stunned the team–not to mention the crowd assembled at Climate Pledge Arena. A series of defensive coverage failures directly in front of the Kraken goal ballooned the one-goal deficit to a 4-0 score at the end of the first period.
On each play, one or more Kraken players could have and should have done more to clear the lane or cover their assignments. At 14:09 in the first, on the penalty kill Hyman had far too much time unchecked to gather a rebound off a point shot at the top of the crease and snap the puck past Philipp Grubauer.
The Kraken’s penalty kill scheme (the “box” defense) often leaves the net-front player “assigned” to the goalie for coverage, but both Adam Larsson and Jamie Oleksiak should have been able to collapse on Hyman in this sequence to prevent, or at least alter, the shot. Oleksiak in particular seemed to drift too far.
A little over four minutes later, soft coverage allowed a net drive by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that culminated in (as John Forslund would say) “hack and whack time” by “a bevy of humanity” in front of the goal. Grubauer never was able to grab hold of the puck and freeze it. In this situation, you often see a collapsing defense check through the bodies of the attacking forwards to neutralize any chance for a shot on goal. The Kraken failed to do this, instead content to engage in 50-50 stick battles. Hyman was the first to connect cleanly, and, in doing so, completed a natural hat trick for Edmonton.
Hakstol said he considered taking a timeout after this third goal but thought the team could survive the last 80 seconds of the first period and make adjustments at the intermission. But that didn’t happen.
With just 18 seconds left in the period, Dylan Holloway was left unchecked on the left side of the goal to corral a ricochet off the end boards and tap the puck behind Grubauer. Both Brian Dumoulin and Justin Schultz found themselves on the left side of the net, leaving the right post open. Schultz likely erred in straying out of position.
Matty Beniers also made a mistake here, though. After correctly shifting down to cover Holloway initially, he peeled away, either assuming a defenseman could shift back or thinking the puck was getting past the Edmonton forward. This left Holloway open to score.
Grubauer may take some heat coming out of this one, having allowed four goals on 17 shots before getting lifted, but it is clear he didn’t get any help from the net-front defense. Indeed, the Kraken’s lack of physicality and defensive detail clearly still stung Hakstol post-game.
“Soon as we gave up the first one… there’s three [more] goals scored at the net front,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got to take it upon ourselves defensively and competitively that that can’t happen.”
Takeaway #2 (Darren): The Zach Hyman show
Spin zone! The Kraken didn’t allow any points to Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid in this game. They also didn’t allow a single shot on goal in the third period and won that final frame 1-0. That’s pretty good, right?
Just kidding, I won’t try to spin this loss into anything positive, because it was a stinker, plain and simple. While Seattle was holding Draisaitl and McDavid off the board, Hyman was lighting it up and had singlehandedly given Edmonton a 3-0 lead by the 18:40 mark of the first.
As Curtis mentioned, Hyman did a great job of getting to the front of the net, and Seattle kept failing to account for him.
Hyman had a pretty simple explanation for his approach after the game. “If you look at any analytics numbers, they’ll tell you where most of the goals are scored,” Hyman said. “I don’t know if it’s like 50 percent, or something like that, where it’s within a five-meter radius of the net. So [I was] taught at a young age, if you want to score, go to the net.”
The Kraken do have a guy who has played with that mentality this season, and it’s Jaden Schwartz, who coincidentally scored for the fourth game in a row Saturday and extended his point streak to nine games. Schwartz has been all over the top of the blue paint this season, and his power-play goal against the Oilers came off a pass to that spot from Tolvanen.
As several Seattle players continue to struggle at producing consistent offense, a good place for them to go to break out just might be that area at the top of the crease.
Takeaway #3 (Darren): Bad night for Grubauer
Curtis was right in Takeaway #1 that Grubauer did not get a lot of help in that godforsaken first period, and the only goal I would hang much blame on him for was the Holloway goal. On that one, Grubauer had a chance to deflect the puck out of harm’s way, but it rolled off his stick blade and into the slot, breathing life into the play.
If you think about the others, one’s a two-on-one, one is a rebound after a shot through traffic with nobody clearing out Hyman, and one is a net-front scramble after Grubauer got knocked out of position by Kane (Seattle probably should have challenged that one, by the way).
Still, when a team comes out flat and gives up 17 shots in a period, it needs its goalie to find some pucks he’s not supposed to find. Although that has happened more nights than not for the Kraken this season, it just didn’t happen Saturday.
Statistically, it was Grubauer’s worst performance of the season by a long shot, and it was the first time he has been pulled from a game. His .762 save percentage was almost a full .100 worse than his previous low, which was the weird lighting game against the Rangers on Oct. 21. He also gave up two more goals than expected, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Joey Daccord was able to stop the bleeding in the second period and didn’t face any shots in the third. It will be interesting to see where Hakstol turns Monday against the Avalanche. If Grubauer’s old team wasn’t the opponent, we would say without a shadow of a doubt that it will be Daccord. But Grubauer just won against Colorado on Thursday, and historically, he tends to play well against that club in general. We shall see.
By the way, Colorado lost 8-2 to St. Louis on Saturday. We aren’t sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for the Kraken.