Even without the one-game suspension to reigning Norris Trophy winning defenseman Cale Makar, the Seattle Kraken could be considered favorites to win their first round series with the Colorado Avalanche.
1) Kraken Confidence
At even strength the team that scored the most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL during the regular season (209), the Kraken have started to exercise their will for stretches on the cycle in the offensive zone. They were dominant in the 1st period of Game-4 at Climate Pledge Arena and eventually out-shot the Avalanche 43-22.
The defending Stanley Cup champs even appeared rattled for stretches of the 1st period in which Seattle took a 2-0 lead on 18 shots. Makar definitely seemed shaken up by the fact he was lustily booed by the Kraken faithful at Climate Pledge Arena every time he touched the puck after he had knocked Kraken forward Jared McCann out of the game with a late hit at the 8:24 mark. Seattle scored on the power play that came as a result of that infraction and Makar’s game was marked by uncharacteristic unforced errors later in the period.
Although they’re only going to see about a dozen minutes of ice time, maybe a bit more Wednesday night because of Makar’s absence, at various points the Kraken will have the opportunity to exploit the lack of mobility in defensemen Josh Manson and Erik Johnson. They can be an intimidating pair physically, but Manson struggles a bit against the turbo forecheck and skating-wise Johnson is towing a wagon. They’re non-factors offensively.
2) Special Teams
Some of that Seattle shot total was built on the Kraken power play that clicked twice in the last game, including on the game winner in overtime. Seattle is 3-for-16 on the man advantage in the series while Colorado sits at 1-for-10. The Kraken were just two seconds away from killing off the one successful Avalanche power play when Mikko Rantanen scored in the 2nd period of Game-4.
That Kraken penalty kill is a major story considering the fact that during the regular season it took awhile to come together with an overall effectiveness of 76.7%, ranked 21st in the NHL. That six month number is misleading since the Kraken PK finished the final 30 days of the season at 88% and has been almost perfect in the postseason.
The 16 to 10 power play opportunity advantage in the series isn’t an indication of one-sided officiating, it’s an indication of Colorado’s struggle to contain Seattle’s transition game and forecheck.
3) Puck Possession At The Dots
One of the more dramatic turnarounds in Game-4 of this series was the Kraken’s ability to win face-offs, which they did 56% of the time. That, after being dominated in draws through the first three games of the series, with the Avalanche capitalizing on offensive zone draws and turning face-off wins directly into goals.
“If I’m being honest I think we have to be smart and cheat a little bit more,” Hakstol told us before Game-4. “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.”
The Kraken bought into the tie-up face-offs and used utter determination to win some big D-zone draws. Yanni Gourde’s efforts were most noticeable, especially after he go smoked at the dots during the two games in Denver.
Neither team were exactly stalwarts at this craft during the regular season. The Avalanche were 27th in the NHL in face-off wins while the Kraken were next to last.
— Withstanding negative momentum changes while keeping their heads about them in a hostile environment will be a key element for the Kraken during Game-5. Up until now they’ve allowed mistakes to snowball following Avalanche goals.
— Game-5 is slated to begin a little after 6:30 pm pacific on Wednesday evening from Ball Arena in Denver.