BUFFALO, N.Y. — A quarter of the way through their debut season, the Kraken appear determined to at least make it more interesting.
After an initial 5 1/2 weeks in which fans and pundits openly wondered whether the Kraken were a reincarnation of 1990s-era NHL expansion disasters, the team made a statement by winning three of four against top contenders. And they demonstrated they could sustain the relentless, high-energy style so often missing previously for three full periods.
As a result, the Kraken passed their season’s quarter mark at 7-13-1 and within eight points of a final playoff spot they still have through April to whittle away at. Kraken coach Dave Hakstol, in summing up what worked in his team’s 4-1 win Saturday night over the Florida Panthers, also provided the blueprint for swinging future wins their way.
“The guys did a real good job, in terms of being ready to go and playing hard together for 60 minutes,” Hakstol said.
And the “60 minutes” part is really the key. Hakstol alluded to it multiple times during his postgame session while players have referenced it repeatedly the past week. There were nights during the team’s six-game losing streak, as in defeats prior, when the Kraken felt they’d worked hard without earning a result.
But working hard and working effectively aren’t always the same. And working hard at the level the Kraken have in most games the past week isn’t the same as doing it when they already trail by multiple goals.
For all their work, the Florida game was the first time in exactly three weeks that Hakstol’s team scored first. Some of that is undoubtedly attributable to shaky Kraken goaltending.
As every advanced analytics expert and amateur eye-test specialist has pointed out, Kraken netminder Philipp Grubauer wasn’t great in the season’s first quarter. Neither was Chris Driedger, though an injury and a lack of playing time almost certainly contributed to his poor numbers.
It goes without saying that any team with an NHL-worst combined save percentage of .873 — league average is .907 — won’t win many games regardless of what everybody else is doing.
Other nights, though, it was the forwards whose skates appeared encased in cement.