Head coach Dave Hakstol won’t be packing for the upcoming eleven day, six-game road trip until the last minute. He has no idea what he’s bringing– the team travels tomorrow.
“I’m trying to figure out how I can get through with one suit, two shirts. But I don’t think that’s going to work,” he said dryly.
Might need to bring a little more than that, coach.
Freezing temperatures and heavy snow await the Kraken on the East Coast. Fifteen states have been issued winter weather advisories including New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, whose respective teams seek to snap Seattle’s six-game win streak and ten-game point streak, both dating all the way back to before the holiday break.
Seattle will meet the Buffalo Sabres, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Rangers before stopping by for a tilt against the Edmonton Oilers on the way home. Nearly a month has passed since the Kraken have journeyed farther than Texas.
Extended road trips resemble something closer to cross-country odysseys for West Coast teams deprived of the luxury of inter-league proximity. At any rate, the trip is teeming with opportunity– only the Rangers are currently in a playoff position. And, one can’t forget that the last time the Kraken took off for a long, early January road trip, they returned boasting historical accolades and an eight-game win streak.
Having secured the second wild card position in the Western conference after Thursday night’s win over the Ottawa Senators, all signs point towards a fruitful trip. But that fact doesn’t change Hakstol’s message to his team, adamant that the race to the playoffs is “still an ongoing battle.”
Monotonous as it may seem, Seattle’s tunnel-vision-esque focus on securing two points at a time is what helped them force their way back into postseason contention despite a season with plenty of hurdles– injuries, lengthy losing skids, and fluctuating offensive contribution.
“What our players have done is stay with it through thick and thin,” Hakstol said. “We have the opportunity to be in the position that we are, dig in the second half, and continue to […] be really clear on the challenge ahead.”
Accordingly, one final practice was held Saturday morning at the Kraken Community Iceplex.
No team meeting was held, hardly any strategizing was had— priority over the forty-five minute session was strictly physical, getting bodies back on the ice after a canceled practice the day prior. Only of note were line rushes, displaying clues to what combinations could lie ahead following the return of Jaden Schwartz, confirmed to join the road trip.
Devin Shore and Kailer Yamamoto rotated in as odd-men out. André Burakovsky, Tye Kartye, and Jared McCann composed the fourth line, and Schwartz took up left wing on the second alongside Alex Wennberg and Brandon Tanev.
But line labels hardly mean a thing when depth is flourishing. Over the last ten games, every forward line has recorded at least ten points; Yanni Gourde’s third line leads with 18.
Hakstol estimates this is the best shape Seattle’s forward depth has been in this season. And while offense becomes a more reliable source of competition, defense will keep things steady on the backend— the Kraken have allowed just six goals over the last six games, and hold the lowest expected goals against per game in the league (2.13).
“Regardless of depth and looking to improve our ability to provide offense, [winning efforts are] still going to start with our ability to defend.”
The only returns the Kraken are still waiting on of Philipp Grubauer and Pierre-Édouard Bellemare— the former did not take the ice today, but was seen in the locker room in workout attire. No updates were provided on either.
But at least for the time being, Seattle should fare just fine without them.