As we near the end of October, the league standings begin to take a more stable shape. With the instability of the Pacific Division, the possibility of playoff hockey in Seattle this season seems a tad more likely. That being said, certain things need to happen in order for this dream to become a reality.
However, a caveat of this is that the rest of the division cooperates. A month into the season, it’s clear that nearly everyone is stumbling out of the gate. The coming weeks should prove useful in placing teams, but if some of the contenders continue to struggle, the door opens for the Kraken.
It will likely be a combination of several factors and fellow Pacific Division teams failing, but it’s possible that the Kraken find their way into a playoff spot for the first time in franchise history.
Better Goaltending is a Must
Statistically, the Kraken had the worst goaltending in the NHL in 2021-22. If they want to make any sort of playoff push in 2022-23, the crease needs to improve drastically. Frankly, a league-average tandem could get them closer to where they need to be in order to compete.
Ending last season with a goals saved above expected (GSAX) of minus-33.7 (MoneyPuck), Philipp Grubauer had the worst numbers in the league of any qualified starter. Martin Jones wasn’t sparkling last year either, sporting a minus-9.4 GSAX. While Jones had yet to join the Kraken, his play should be somewhat similar to his action in Philadelphia last season.
As a team in 2021-22, the Kraken had a .880 save percentage, which is frighteningly low. It isn’t the only reason they finished in the bottom five, but it certainly contributed to it.
To begin the season, Grubauer appears to be struggling yet again but has the chance to reset while rehabbing from a lower-body injury he suffered on Oct. 21. Jones has also struggled at times, but has taken the net out of necessity and will likely have control of the crease for the foreseeable future.
Joey Daccord, who was called up from the Coachella Valley Firebirds, could be a key factor in stabilizing the goaltending. The 26-year-old has been dominant in the American Hockey League (AHL) ranks over the past several seasons, and while he’s looked shaky early, he could still step up into a bigger role.
It doesn’t seem like an exaggeration to say that the season ahead will ultimately be decided by a better goaltending performance from the Kraken tandem. The team will likely get closer to a spot even if the group of Grubauer, Jones, and Daccord pulls the team closer to a league-average save percentage.
Capitalize on Better Depth Scoring
After finishing near the bottom of the NHL in goals for per game (GF/GP) last season, the Kraken needed a scoring boost throughout the lineup. The biggest lift will come from the additions of Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand, but the trickle-down effect should be noticeable.
Now, scoring talent is scattered throughout the rest of the lineup and could lead to a better goal differential. As October comes to an end, the Kraken currently have the 11th-best GF/GP in the league. This is clearly an improvement from last season and could be a trend for the remainder of the year.
A name to watch would have to be Jared McCann, who has bounced around the lineup to start the year. Currently playing on the third line with Yanni Gourde and Karson Kuhlman, his offensive presence is among the best on the team.
Through the first nine games, McCann is the team leader in goals with five and is tied for the team lead in points with eight. Floating him around the lineup allows for a level of flexibility that most teams struggle with, and barring injury, could shape up to be a great decision.
Another X-factor that could come into play is the status of Shane Wright. Wright has yet to find playing time in the early part of the season, including time on the fourth line and as a healthy scratch. His current usage is unfortunate, as he’s gaining nothing from playing little to no minutes in his first professional season.
That being said, he is still an option to prove useful in a depth scoring role. If injuries become an issue, the Kraken have an incredibly talented Wright ready to step in. Until then, we wait to see if he can play more than six minutes a night or if he’s sent back to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
The Penalty Kill
Without sugarcoating it, the penalty kill has been awful to start the season. Currently rolling along at a 64.5 percent penalty kill percentage, the Kraken sit 31st in the league just above the Vancouver Canucks.
Their penalty kill tendencies tend to result in the opposition getting access to prime areas in the slot and in both faceoff circles. The high frequency of shots from the faceoff dots suggests that they’re facing several cross-ice passes and failing to break those up.
Goaltending is also suspect when it comes to cross-ice movement, so the bad habit of allowing these passes through the middle will likely result in a goal or a decent scoring chance. It can’t all be placed on the tandem in the crease, as they’re effectively being placed in a firing range from in tight.
As shown in the heat map, most of the shooters are finding their way into the middle of the ice or in one of the circles (the darker the orange, the higher the shot totals). To improve their system, which is deeply flawed, they need to analyze how they’re defending the middle of the ice.
It isn’t a simple fix by any means, but there are some things that can be done to start the process. A high forward roaming into the middle of the ice could help to pressure teams to the outside. Now, while this doesn’t eliminate the cross-ice pass issue, it does help with the penetration of the slot.
The Kraken also lead the league in penalty minutes through nine games, which is a frightening trend given their poor penalty killing. If they manage to shore up the penalties taken and improve their ability to defend when shorthanded, they can cut down on a ton of goals against moving forward.
It won’t be easy, but the road to a playoff berth isn’t impossible for this talented Kraken team. The list of needed improvements is a difficult task to address, but some tweaks could get them closer to those final spots. If the Pacific Division continues to stumble, this might be their chance to sneak into one of the final spots at the end of the season.
It may only be the first month of the season, but we’re only a few weeks out from the “U.S. Thanksgiving” line that people use to figure out the playoff picture. Whether the Kraken stay in contention throughout the entirety of the season remains to be seen, but it’s certainly possible.
Latest News & Highlights
Brian Finlayson is a lifelong hockey fan, and has spent recent years writing for hockey-based websites and blogs. Now, Brian joins THW as a Seattle Kraken contributor and is very excited to help cover the NHL’s newest team.
Brian spends most of his time as a student, working towards a communications & media degree at Canadian Mennonite University. He hopes to combine his loves of sports and storytelling to find a career in sports media.