Greetings. It’s time for another Screen Shots column, which takes a handful of issues and breaks them down in smaller bites. Let’s get right to it.
– The expansion Seattle Kraken are in the midst of their first real standings skid, losing five straight games and winning just three times in their past 10 games (including seven losses in regulation time) and just once in their past eight games. They’re stuck at the bottom of the Pacific Division with a 4-11-1 record, nine points and four teams back of a playoff berth.
It’s not difficult to see what’s missing for the Kraken. In all five losses on their current streak, Seattle has allowed at least four goals, and in two of those games, they averaged six goals-against. All three of the goaltenders they’ve used thus far this season have a save percentage of .877 or worse.
You can’t blame everything on the goalies, though. Part of Seattle’s struggles have to be blamed on the defense in front of No. 1 netminder Philipp Grubauer and backups Chris Driedger and Joey Daccord. Despite being comprised in part of veterans Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn, the defense corps has looked dazed and confused, often in the very early portions of games. The Kraken’s forwards haven’t been any help in their own zone, and the end result has left little support for Grubauer, Driedger and Daccord.
The news for Seattle only gets worse in the coming week: starting Friday, they host the Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals and Carolina; they then head out on the road to take on the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Their five-game losing streak could be 10 games by the end of this month.
The Vegas Golden Knights’ first-year performance may have raised expectations too high for Seattle, which eschewed some big-name, big-salary NHLers in the expansion draft in favor of having salary cap space. Now they’ve got to fight with a lineup that, in part, is not able to punch as hard or defend as hard as many, if not most teams. They’re in trouble, but we’ll see how GM Ron Francis sculpts his lineup as the season unfolds.
– At the other end of the win/loss ledger are the Winnipeg Jets, who now sit atop the Central Division with a 9-3-3 record and a current three-game win streak. In many ways, they’re the opposite of the Kraken; Winnipeg’s top two lines are rampaging over opponents, with the top line of wingers Andrew Copp and Nik Ehlers and center Mark Scheifele combining for 32 points (and that’s with Scheifele playing just nine of 15 games), and the second line of wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor and center Pierre-Luc Dubois combing for 40 points (and that’s with Wheeler only playing in 10 games).
Combine Winnipeg’s potent offense with a smart, mobile group of defensemen (including Josh Morrissey, Nate Schmidt, Brenden Dillion and Neal Pionk combining for 32 points) and star goalie Connor Hellebuyck, and you have an elite squad that can adapt to any opponent and play a run-and-gun, high-scoring game or a low-offense, tight game. Since they started this season 0-2-1, they’ve gone 9-1-2. Only one regulation time loss in that span has vaulted the Jets to the top spot in the Central, but they’ll need to keep up this torrid pace to ward off Central title rivals in Minnesota, Colorado, and St. Louis. They’ve got depth and talent, and now it’s all about staying healthy and peaking at the right time of year.
– On the topic of Connor McDavid’s critics – including veteran coach John Tortorella, who said on ESPN last week that McDavid should “shut up” about a lack of penalties being called on opponents who are draped all over him – McDavid shouldn’t give any oxygen to them, and continue to play the up-tempo, amazingly-skilled game he is now famous for. He deserves much more support from the league and its officials, who regularly leave the rulebook aside and allow top talents to be dragged down.
McDavid’s prowess (including the attempts to limit it) is the latest in a long line of top NHLers whose skills were limited by the conditions of the game. Think back to New York Islanders legend Mike Bossy, whose career was curtailed due to the constant physical assaults on his person; or think of Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, who in 1992 called the NHL a “garage league” that allowed players to be clutched, hooked and held without any penalty. Both Lemieux and Bossy were right – the league did not employ punitive measures against obstructionist play; indeed, it encouraged it.
Although there have been modest gains in allowing NHL stars to shine, there’s clearly a lot of room still to go before things are ideal. In the wake of Tortorella’s backwards comments, McDavid said, “I guess I just got to shut up about this”. It felt less like an honest representation by the Oilers superstar, and more like a way to deflect the uproar that has come with his early-season dissatisfaction.
Don’t listen to the Tortorella types, Connor. You be you, and keep plugging away. Let the game adapt to you, and not the other way around.