Daniel Sprong and Kraken’s fourth line on a roll again
MINNEAPOLIS — The Kraken’s fourth line is on a hot streak, as is right winger Daniel Sprong. Those two statements have often gone hand-in-hand.
The Kraken have nearly reached the NHL postseason rolling four dangerous lines. Despite playing almost exclusively on the fourth line, Sprong has scored the third-most goals on the team and was one away from Matty Beniers in second going into Monday’s game. He’s sixth on the team in power-play goals with 10. Sprong has 19 goals and 39 points in 56 games, all career highs.
“I think I’ve been producing pretty well all year long with the minutes I’ve played,” Sprong said. “I think (I have) those numbers to show for it.”
Indeed, Sprong’s totals are the highest in the NHL among players averaging less than 12 minutes of ice time this season, according to the team. He entered Monday night’s game averaging 11:08.
The goal-scorer touch has been the 26-year-old’s calling card. The questions that have dogged him during several NHL stops involve his play away from the puck.
Recently, the scoring slowed. He ended a season-high, 12-game goal drought March 7 against the Anaheim Ducks. Before that, he hadn’t appeared in more than five games this season without finding the back of the net. That timing corresponded with consistent scratches from the lineup.
“I didn’t really go through that all year. That frustration builds up,” Sprong said. “You start lacking little parts in your game and detail because you’re starting to focus in on it a bit, you start thinking about it a bit more.”
It began after the All-Star break — he’d play two games, then be scratched two games. Sprong said when he wasn’t in the lineup and didn’t have a game to prepare for, the mornings were frustrating. He sat around all day. The mind wanders.
But that fluky goal against the Ducks was the start of something. The shot looked to be headed safely into goaltender John Gibson’s glove, but it popped up and over it, the third Kraken goal of a 5-2 win. Sprong put up seven points in seven games and goals in three straight. That was his first three-game goal-scoring streak of the season and it ties the longest of his career.
All three came in the first period, and that buzzing fourth line connected in the first four minutes of each game. Sprong set up Brandon Tanev 2:32 into the game March 21 against the Dallas Stars, then Tanev returned the favor later in the period.
“You get the rhythm and you have that feeling. It’s hard to explain,” Sprong said.
“We’re generating right off the start. We’re not waiting to get into the game. We’re attacking right away and having a lot of success like that as a line.”
Sprong scored the Kraken’s only goal of regulation 2:28 into Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators, with assists to Morgan Geekie and Vince Dunn, a game in which Sprong played 14:08, his sixth-highest ice-time total of the season. Two days later in the same building, Sprong scored the first of seven Kraken goals 3:13 into the first period with assists to Ryan Donato and Tanev.
“He’s a threat to score always and it’s fun to play with,” Donato said.
Geekie, Sprong, Donato and Tanev have been in the rotating cast of characters on that dangerous fourth line. Geekie was pulled up to the second line recently, leaving the other three to do their thing.
All have enjoyed offensive hot streaks this season. Often there hasn’t been enough space for them all in the lineup.
“The chemistry of that group is important. It’s changed from night to night,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “We feel confident that we can keep interchanging different players there and they can go out and provide the same contributions and do the same job for us.”
Hakstol said his staff keeps a constant dialogue going about areas of strength and improvement. In training camp — which Sprong entered on a professional tryout — both parties confirmed Sprong was told he needed to beef up the areas of his game besides scoring. He needed to be what Hakstol called a “200-foot player.”
“We all need reminders. We all make mistakes, and we need opportunities to go back and do it again,” Hakstol said.
Sprong is doing what he does best in this sport during his current opportunity.
“It’s a good time to start feeling good as a team and personally as well,” he said.
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