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Sports >  NHL

Commentary: It’s not crisis time, but it’s time for Kraken to show faith in roster was justified

March 19, 2023 Updated Sun., March 19, 2023 at 5:32 p.m.

The Seattle Kraken’s Jordan Eberle (7) reacts after a 6-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Seattle.  (Tribune News Service)
The Seattle Kraken’s Jordan Eberle (7) reacts after a 6-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Seattle. (Tribune News Service)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

When the Seattle Kraken stood pat at the trade deadline earlier this month, it was portrayed as a vote of confidence in the players on hand by general manager Ron Francis. He stated that he didn’t want to disrupt the chemistry of a team that had surged into contention for the Western Conference’s top spot.

Francis’s judgment might indeed be proven right – and, indeed, the Kraken surged to three victories in a row in the immediate aftermath of the deadline. But two weeks later, the Kraken have hit a lull that, if not remedied, threatens to mute much of the good vibes they’ve built up all year.

It’s not crisis time, not even after Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Climate Pledge Arena, in which they fell behind a mere 95 seconds into the game and played catchup the rest of the way. But with four losses in their last five games, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if some new blood might have proved energizing right about now.

Kraken coach Dave Hakstol was effusive about the effort of his players, who had to overcome the loss of goaltender Philipp Grubauer to an undisclosed illness midway through the second period.

“Our team played a good hockey game today. It was an even hockey game,’’ Hakstol said, while noting how difficult it is to play constantly from behind. “We worked extremely hard. And especially on the offensive side of the puck, we ground for our offensive opportunities and generated real good opportunities. … That’s why it’s disappointing. It feels bad.”

Just as Grubauer had been scored upon on Edmonton’s first shot of the game, so did his replacement, Martin Jones, give up a goal less than a minute after his entrance on the first shot he faced.

It was that kind of day for the Kraken, who had everything to play for in this one. Considering that Edmonton was ahead of them by a single point in the Pacific Division standings, a victory would have moved Seattle past them into third place in the division – a more solid playoff position. Instead, it was essentially a four-point swing that left the Kraken three points behind the Oilers and clinging to their wild-card playoff spot.

It was a game of relatively high intensity – including a rare throw-down-the-gloves fight involving the Kraken’s John Hayden, who immediately left with a lower-body injury. But the early scoring by Edmonton helped take the full power of the crowd out of the game. Every time the Kraken were on the verge of coming all the way back, the Oilers would score – including a hat trick by Evander Kane and the obligatory goal by the peerless Connor McDavid.

It might actually be a relief for them to head out for a four-game swing on the road, where the Kraken have inexplicably performed far more successfully (22-9-3) than their middling record at home (16-15-4). Considering that the trip features only teams in playoff contention – including two at Nashville, which is trying to run down Seattle in the wild-card standings – and a turnaround becomes imperative.

“I think the biggest thing is, just stick with it,’’ said Jordan Eberle, who had one of Seattle’s four goals. “Going into the season, people had already counted us out. So to be in the position we are, we’ve got to get a little bit confident. We’ve earned it to be here, and this is ours to lose. We know the group we have in here, and we know the game and the style that we can play. We’ve just got to try and put it together for 60 minutes.

“Hopefully, we can keep on with the road success we’ve had,’’ Oliver Bjorkstrand said. “Obviously, we’ve got to win games. It’s tight right now. We have our eyes on obviously making the playoffs, but right now it’s one game at a time and we’ve just got to focus on that.”

With just 13 games remaining in the regular season, the stretch drive has officially begun. The Kraken want to build momentum going into what would be the first playoff series in the brief club history, barring a monumental collapse.

Whether the Kraken should have bolstered the roster is sure to be a hot-button item of debate. It’s also a moot point, because no one is walking through that door – unless they’re coming up from Coachella Valley Firebirds. But it would be a good time for the Kraken to show that Francis’ faith in them was justified.

“We know the situation right now, and it’s time to win some games,’’ Bjorkstrand said.

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