The keys for the Kraken don’t change a whole lot whether they’re playing in the first round, round-2 or the Western Conference championship.
1) Kraken Goaltending
It doesn’t need to be said, it’s been said tens of thousands of times before, the key to most any hockey success goes hand-in-hand with very solid goaltending. The Kraken won’t win without above average performances in net. Preferably well above.
Head coach Dave Hakstol answered the question regarding his netminders on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“We’re a playoff team,” Hakstol answered. “They’re as equal a part to that success as any other area of our team. There’s a real focus and spotlight on certain areas coming into playoffs, certainly goaltending is one of them. We’re very comfortable with our two guys.”
What else can he say? Confident in our two guys?
It’s sort of the elephant in the room to start the playoffs, carrying a little bit of Kraken mystery.
There is always the possibility Philipp Grubauer stands on his head. He might not have to, but it would definitely be a bonus. What he does need to do, is to make all of the saves he is supposed to make and then some.
Regular season statistics don’t point to that likelihood. The starting goaltending spot involved an accidental revolving door, whether via injury or simple inconsistency in performance.
Martin Jones filled in beautifully in the first half of the season when ‘Grooby’ was hurt. He made the saves he had to and racked up wins. He finished the season 27-13-and-3. Grubauer finished 17-14-and-4.
Where they didn’t do so well; goaltending statistics.
Grubauer finished with a season save percentage of .895, Jones at .887.
The big analytics number: “goals saved above expected.” Grubauer finished with a negative number and finished 64th best in the NHL. That’s essentially dead last out of 32 teams hypothetically sporting two goalies. Jones, he finished 93rd.
A happy thought: Grubauer looked a lot more confident lately and it’s reflected in his last five starts. There was a blip in the season finale but otherwise he looked dialed in. The trend will need to continue or the Kraken are toast.
Both of these men won Stanley Cups as back-up goalies. Postseason-wise, Grubauer has gotten much better overall as his career has progressed. He’s started 32 career Stanley Cup Playoff games while Jones has started 60.
2) Penalty Kill
Stay out of the box against the Colorado Avalanche and their 24.5% power play. That’s the simple first solution. If you’re the Kraken and you end up shorthanded, keep doing what you’ve been doing the last 30 days.
Hakstol refers to ‘top down pressure’. That’s when the Kraken aggressively attack the puck at the point and then force the play down the boards once the puck is moved that direction. Ultimately the penalty killing team is trying to avoid being outnumbered by those possessing the puck anywhere on the ice. The best way to do it is to disrupt decision making and force a mistake before a play can even get started.
Dallas Stars coach Pete DeBoer runs what is referred to as “the wheel”, essentially top down pressure where PKers aggressively rotate in behind one another for support while attacking the point and then the board play.
Since giving up three power play goals to the Stars on March 13th at Climate Pledge Arena, the Kraken have killed off 37 of the last 42 opposing power play chances. That’s 88-percent and will win you hockey games.
The power play is important obviously, but we’ve given examples in the past of teams who have won Stanley Cups without an effective man advantage.
For a team that relies on 5-on-5 scoring, the Kraken should stick to their guns. Power play goals will be an added bonus. Stay out of the box, kill the penalties when you get them, and win by doing what got them here.
3) Riding The Waves
Momentum swings can be powerful in playoff hockey. Momentum is a team’s collective confidence. Riding out the low points and preventing them from snowballing is key. Taking advantage of positive bursts is a nice bonus.
Players will often say “don’t get too high or too low” and that applies to everything from entire seasons to playoff games.
The team needs to bounce back from adversity and that’s where their experience benefits. That’s where having six healthy guys who have won a Stanley Cup in the line-up or on the Kraken bench helps matters.
There’s no substitute for having gone through it. Emotions must be kept in check and channelled effectively.
This of course doesn’t mean you don’t expect or want two-time Stanley Cup champion Yanni Gourde to be pestering the opposition as much as possible.
Another common element we’ve pointed out: hockey people are animals of routine. Wash, rinse, repeat. Coach Hakstol referred to this simple importance when discussing the travel plans and arrangements prior to Game-1 in Denver.
“There was no reason for us to go in two days early, there’s no benefit to it for Game-1,” Hakstol said Sunday morning. “So we’re on a regular travel schedule, and we’re on a schedule that is best for us. That’s worked throughout the year. Again, every team is a little bit different in their rhythm and their practice rhythm and how they want to lead into a game day. We’re just setting up our our schedule to be most effective for us.”
Game-1 is Tuesday night in Denver and begins a little after 8 pm mountain time.