There’s always a first for everything, and what an absolute delight it is for the Seattle Kraken to be able to welcome the Stanley Cup Playoffs to town. That would be the NHL version of course, with the old Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association winning Lord Stanley’s chalice back in 1917. No chance anyone’s around who remembers seeing that one.
The opening round series with the Colorado Avalanche arrives in the Emerald City tied at one game apiece. The Kraken pulled of the surprise Game-1 victory 3-1 on Tuesday in Denver before blowing a 2-0 lead and losing Game-2 by a final score of 3-2.
The venue changes but the approach doesn’t. While match-ups factor in, each team generally worries about themselves, as in executing, sticking to game plans and being disciplined to systems and identity.
Avalanche Head Coach Jared Bednar had some interesting thoughts on Saturday morning as it relates to switching to road-team-mode. Colorado had an excellent 29-11-and-1 record away from home this past regular season.
“Number one, your commitment level to what you need to do to have success has to be higher,” Bednar said. “That’s really the biggest thing, you can’t get intimidated on the road. You got to have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder and really understand your game and what makes you successful, then you gotta go do it. You know that home teams can feel a little bit of pressure to perform at home or do whatever they have to do. On the road I feel like the pressure’s off a little bit, but the repetitive success that we’ve had should give our guys some confidence to go into any building and have success.”
Outside of their own icing infractions, as the home team, the Kraken get the last line change following whistles. This is one of the “home ice advantages” a head coach can utilize in terms of getting the match-ups he likes.
Kraken Head Coach Dave Hakstol is not a strict match-up guy. Particularly because of the depth and balance in his line-up, he generally has been one to roll his four lines consistently. That could change a little bit tonight at Climate Pledge Arena, especially when Seattle will be trying to shut-down superstar center Nathan MacKinnon.
“Being at home allows you to get some match-ups and allows you to avoid some match-ups,” Hakstol said Saturday morning. “When you have elite players who play big minutes … obviously Nate’s one of those guys, he can play big minutes, that absolutely creates a different challenge. It’s not completely unique, but for this series that’s part of the match-ups.”
MacKinnon skated with Mikko Rantanen and Evan Rodrigues in Game-1, while Rantanen moved down with center J.T. Compher in Game-2. Winger Artturi Lehkonen moved up. It eventually paid off with production in Colorado’s victory.
No line-up changes at this point for the Kraken. Forward Morgan Geekie, who’s seen consistent time in this series on the “second line” with Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Wennberg, missed the morning skate Saturday. Hakstol described it as simple maintenance. At first glance Geekie’s time-on-ice is substantially lower than his linemates in Games one and two, but that’s because of his lack of special teams time.
By the way, we put quotation marks around Kraken line numbers because of Hakstol’s desire to emphasize the team’s balance. He was even reluctant to describe Jared McCann, Matty Beniers, and Jordan Eberle as the 1st line. That’s somewhat a matter of principle and a sound concept for team cohesion. Either way, “top line” or not, the Kraken will need to see some actual point production from that threesome.
Also, the fourth line of Ryan Donato, Daniel Sprong and Brandon Tanev were clearly the fourth line based on minutes, although they have been productive in creating havoc thus far. Tanev gets a boost in his minutes by being a regular on the penalty kill and he scored a shorthanded goal in Game-2.
The Kraken will start Philipp Grubauer in net with Alexandar Georgiev going once again for the Avalanche at the other end. Game time is several minutes after 7 pm pacific.