Seattle Kraken, Beniers and Bellemare

Kraken Line Changes A Reflection Of Club’s Depth Issue

… And when I say “depth”, I’m not necessarily singling out the bottom six forwards or the 4th line. The Kraken have depth and performance issues from top to bottom, which has led to some odd in-game decisions for the coaches.

First of all and for example, heading into Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, “top line” center Matty Beniers has two points over his last seven games. They both came Monday night in Dallas. Fellow centerman Alex Wennberg had just three points over his last nine, while Yanni Gourde had contributed one point over his last 12 games.

So much for strength up the middle. Yes, the latter two in particular carry defensive match-up responsibilities against teams with greater firepower, that would be most of them, but they obviously need to contribute at both ends of the ice.

Injuries aside, the collective drought has led to some unusual shift choices from the Kraken coaches in-game.

((Note: Outside of when a team is guilty of icing, when no change is allowed for the club committing the infraction, the home team coach gets the last line change and the match-ups he wants following stoppages of play.))

Kraken Shifts

Prior to his first period injury in Dallas on Monday night, center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and the Seattle 4th-line had been the club’s most dangerous over the previous three games. So much so that a few minutes into the 3rd period of last Tuesday’s home game against the Florida Panthers, with the Kraken leading 1-0, Seattle head coach Dave Hakstol left his 4th-line on the ice, despite having already played a full shift, for an offensive zone draw at an obvious crucial time.

To put this in perspective, if the Colorado Avalanche 4th line had just played 40-seconds and earned an offensive zone face-off in the 3rd period of a one-goal hockey game, via either an icing infraction or another stoppage of play, Nathan MacKinnon and his linemates are coming over the boards. Or Connor McDavid’s line for the Oilers, or Mitch Marner’s for the Leafs, or Aleksander Barkov’s for the Panthers, etc., etc.

In this case, Hakstol’s hunch, or was it simply the team’s best option at the time, paid off.

Bellemare won the draw in the left wing face-off circle and ended up scoring the crucial 2-0 goal on the play at 5:59 with assists to D-man Ryker Evans and winger Kailer Yamamoto. The Kraken went on to win four-nothing.

I asked “Hak” after the game about the decision to keep that line out there in that situation with 14 minutes remaining in regulation.

“Those guys were going good,” Hakstol said. “The way the match-ups landed and ended up tonight, they didn’t have a ton of minutes, but every time over the boards they were going good. We’ve seen a little bit of chemistry with that line so that’s not just a one night thing.”

We saw more of the same in a tight game four nights later against the Kings.

With 7:04 remaining in the first period following an icing call against Los Angeles, the Kraken 4th line stayed on the ice for an offensive zone draw. On this occasion Bellemare won it against Blake Lizotte but no scoring occurred.

With 3:49 left, the same story; no new Seattle bodies over the boards following an LA icing, with Bellemare losing the face-off to Trevor Lewis.

“Normalcy” took over in the 3rd period. Just as Kings coach Todd McLellan had his top line on the ice for an offensive zone draw following a Kraken icing at the 6:09 mark, Hakstol went with his Beniers line for consecutive O-zone face-offs midway through the period following icing calls against LA. Seattle trailed in a one-goal game.

That would be more traditional, logical thinking. The Beniers line is a bigger threat; he ended up winning a face-off and losing one. Seattle didn’t score.

Which brings us back to the original point. The Kraken find themselves in a predicament without consistent scoring throughout the line-up, so decisions that may seem a bit irregular must be made based on match-ups or simple hunches.

Bellemare wins far more draws percentage-wise than Beniers. Then again, you want your more talented and dangerous offensive players on the ice in the offensive zone in case you do win possession. Then again, in recent days, the 4th line had been the dangerous one.

The reasoning flip flops; all a byproduct of a team looking for some offensive consistency. Until it’s found, and/or until some injured bodies return to the line-up, you’re more than likely to see some hunches played.

The game within the game.

((Editor’s Note: This story was written prior to Seattle’s game at Los Angeles on Wednesday night, won by the Kraken 2-1. Beniers picked up a point on a beautiful assist, Wennberg and Gourde did not. This would have been posted Wednesday afternoon, but the author literally was in a fog … stuck on a peninsula in a four-hour ferry delay.))

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Rob Simpson

Rob Simpson has covered the NHL in five different decades. He’s authored 4 books on hockey and is a veteran TV and radio play-by-play man and reporter.