Kraken Notebook: Keeping the queues together proves difficult during the pandemic

It feels like the Kraken haven’t had a true full roster at any point this season.

They may have to get used to it.

Thursday marked Jared McCann’s return from the COVID-19 list.

After a near-outbreak situation at the start of the season and McCann in protocol for the second time, it will only be the reality of playing in the NHL during a pandemic.

“The release of the COVID protocol is always a little different,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “It may be a little different than coming out of a normal detox, just with the settings around the protocol.”

Calle Jarnkrok missed the first five games of the season on COVID protocol and entered Thursday night in search of his first point with the Kraken. Before the game against the Ducks, he said he was feeling good and had no lingering effects.

Yet a trip to the COVID list and back is, as Hakstol said, very different from something like a normal hockey injury.

“I have to be better,” Jarnkrok said. “I haven’t been good. So far I have tried to be the best I can be. … It’s been 10 long days (in protocol), but I’m just having trouble finding my game.

It wasn’t unique to the Kraken. The Ottawa Senators had nine players on protocol heading into their Thursday game against the Kings. Other teams, like the Penguins and Sharks, have had multiple players in protocol at once.

In this way the Kraken has been relatively lucky, it has never been worse than before. McCann was back against the Ducks without a hitch; whether it takes him as long to start as it does for Jarnkrok, that remains to be seen. He had been one of the most productive attackers before entering protocol before the Halloween game against the Rangers.

COVID hasn’t been the only thing keeping the programming fractured. Colin Blackwell was expected to be a big advanced body part and still hasn’t played. Marcus Johansson missed 11 games. Ryan Donato missed a game in Las Vegas, and Yanni Gourde was sidelined the first four games, and was a question mark Thursday after blocking a shot and missing the third period in Las Vegas the previous game.

It’s the NHL. It’s hockey. Especially when playing during a pandemic, the roster might never completely be the team the Kraken selected to be their first team. At some point, they will have to adapt. At some point, not having a key player – be it McCann, Jarnkrok or Gourde – the offense is going to have to return.

On Thursday, 61% of the offense came from Brandon Tanev, Jordan Eberle and defenders. It is not tenable one way or another; and the reality is that the Kraken is going to have to adapt on the fly the rest of the way.

Grubauer returns

The goalkeeper was expected to be a force for the Kraken, but something hasn’t clicked yet. It doesn’t mean it can’t come. It is, after all, still early.

Philipp Grubauer ranks 10th among the worst goaltenders in the league with a 5-5 save percentage at 0.886 Thursday night. His 11 high-risk goals are the third greatest in the NHL.

“I’m not very good at save percentage so I am more evaluating key saves at some point,” said Hakstol. “It’s a big game, and also the momentum swings and makes a difference at key points in games.”

As a team, the Krakens’ high-risk save percentage of 74.03 5-on-5 – among Grubauer’s trio, Chris Driedger and Joey Daccord – is the second-worst in the NHL. With everything else going wrong to start the season, this is one area the Kraken know needs more.

“Everyone knows what his job is,” Hakstol said. “Everyone wants to do it at the highest level. … Everyone needs to do a little more and be a little better.

Grubauer made 13 saves in the first half against an onslaught from the Ducks. The defense in front of him hasn’t been perfect – or, some nights, good at all – but they’re going to need him to be Vezina’s finalist, he has to stand a chance most nights.

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