A new day dawns and the Seattle Kraken will try to peel their backs from against the wall by winning Game-4 and evening their opening round series with the Colorado Avalanche at two games apiece. Lose Monday night and the Kraken will go down 3-1 and face elimination on Wednesday night in Denver.
1) Kraken Absence
Forward Morgan Geekie didn’t play in Game-3 on Saturday night at Climate Pledge Arena due to his wife giving birth to a baby girl named Gabby. He was replaced in the slightly shuffled line-up by Swede Jesper Froden. After having his most productive regular season month over the seven games in April, Geekie earned a spot in the playoffs with Alexander Wennberg and Jaden Schwartz on what’s considered the Kraken’s ‘2nd line’.
Geekie scored the insurance goal in the 3rd period of Seattle’s 3-1 victory in Game-1 of the series in Denver. Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol told the media on Sunday that we’ll know Monday night at game time if Geekie is back in the line-up. We might also get a decent idea from the fact that Geekie did participate in the morning skate (pictured).
2) Avalanche Absence
A similar shuffle occurred with the Avalanche second line in Game-3, but for different reasons. Following the Avalanche’s 6-4 win at Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday night, Colorado head coach Jared Bednar announced that 2nd-line winger Valeri Nichushkin had left the team for personal reasons.
Visiting media from Denver who follow the club on a regular basis peppered Bednar with four or five follow-up questions, but given the personal nature of the decision he was unable to elaborate. It’s believed Nichushkin left Seattle and will not be available at Game-4.
Oddly enough, it was Nichushkin’s play that Bednar singled out after Game-2 for being the most improved of any of the Avalanche from Game-1. “Val” had moved to the left wing on the 2nd line when Mikko Rantanen shuffled down to the right wing on the other side of center J.T. Compher. Rantanen most often plays on the top line next to Nathan MacKinnon.
Nichushkin had a goal on three shots in Game-2 and had 15 points in 20 games last spring in Colorado’s run to winning the Stanley Cup.
3) If you Ain’t Cheatin’, You Ain’t Tryin’
We’ve made much of the Kraken’s inability to win key face-offs in this series thus far. Yanni Gourde went 1-and-9 at the face-off dots in Game-2 and his clean loss in the defensive zone led directly to Colorado’s first goal and the Avalanche of offense that ensued.
The game winner also came off a D-zone loss.
We brought up the topic to coach Hakstol in Denver after Game-2 and while recognizing the importance of the plays, he didn’t elaborate on solutions. That changed Sunday when the Kraken bench boss was asked about the topic again after another pivotal poor performance at the dots on Game-3.
“If I’m being honest I think we have to be smart and cheat a little bit more,” Hakstol said. “Colorado is doing a better job at that and again, they’re getting away with it in the dot and that gives them the advantage. We have to do a better job, if that’s going to be allowed at the face-off dot, then we’ve got to be right there with them.”
There are plenty of subtleties to winning draws in the NHL, part of it being familiar with the idiosyncrasies of individual linesman on puck drops. While rookie Matty Beniers might still be learning the tricks of the trade, there’s no reason Gourde shouldn’t have a clear understanding of what he can get away with, whether that involves tying up the opposing center or not.
“We’ve also got some veteran guys and we’ll look at it here behind the scenes and look at different ways that we can be more effective,” Hakstol concluded.
— Puck drop for Game-4 is a little after 7 pm pacific on Monday night at Climate Pledge Arena