It’s a legit question to ask if the Seattle Kraken are for real. After a disappointing first year that yielded them a record of 27-49-6 and 60 points, third-worst in the NHL, they started out their second campaign with four losses out of five games, and four points gained over the span. The early returns said to expect more of the same as last year. But then they started to roll, and now they’re 8-1-1 in their last ten games and winners of their last six games.
We’re at about the quarter-mark, and the Kraken have come on. They’re playing with Boston-like dominance, and their record has them second in the Pacific. In their recent winning streak, they packed in wins against opponents like the Rangers, the Kings, and Vegas.
Having had the chance to observe them over the course of two games (versus Anaheim and Los Angeles), I can offer a few conclusions as to what’s going on with the team with a sea monster on its chest.
First, players added as regulars since last year, most notably Matty Beniers, are contributing. Beniers is third in team points, at 9-11-20, behind Andre Burakovsky and Jordan Eberle. Beniers was the team’s first draft choice, second overall, in their inaugural draft season. The pick happened in 2021. He played ten games last year and had 3-6-9 points, immediately proving his value.
He added to this year’s total against Anaheim, tacking 1-2-3 points onto his resume. Against the Kings, he came out early to score on the power play. His night was also highlighted by a goal early in the second period, with the game already at 3-3. But it wasn’t just the goals, but the skill exhibited. For instance, on the second, he took the puck off the wall in his own end and passed it forward, then spun off a check. He followed the puck down ice and was in front of the net when a short pass came out to him. Call it a tap-in goal, but based on 200 feet of skating and clever positioning on his part.
Burakovsky, who signed with Seattle in July of this year, leads the team in points, 9-14-23. His total was padded to the tune of two goals against the Kings. To be fair, it was not hard to rack up points in this game, where goals were traded like recipes at a church supper. The score in OT was 9-8 Kraken.
Second conclusion, and speaking of which: they’re scoring goals, in bunches. Who would have thought they’d be plus-16 in goal differential with 22 games played. That’s about .75 more goals per game than those they’ve played. And don’t think there’s a 7-1 drubbing in there somewhere driving up the numbers. (There was one 8-3 score in their favor, and the 9-8 game). In fact, they have outscored an opponent by three or more four times, and they also scored four goals in each of two losses at various points. Their goal differential stat puts Seattle tied for second in the West and tied for fifth in the entire league. The goals-for and -against were high in Socal, namely because of 5-4 and 9-8 scores, but note the differential was only plus-two over two games.
Third, they’re getting goaltending. Not something anybody really had faith in, this, with a tandem of Martin Jones and Philipp Grubauer. The latter, in fact, doesn’t sport very good numbers, being 1-1-1 with a 3.35 GAA and .870 save percentage. Jones is more than making up for that, with an 11-4-2 start and only 2.58 goals against per game leading in to the LA debacle, where he won but allowed all eight. So let’s look at his numbers before that game for a more true reflection of his skills. He was at a .903 save percentage. Heading out of town, the numbers were more like this: 2.90 GAA and .893 save percentage. It’ll take some weeks to get that back in line.
So with all that said, how’s their attack? Well, versus Anaheim it was good, but the team lost its way after being up 2-0 and 3-1 and ended up allowing the Ducks to tie the game at fours. The Kraken ultimately prevailed by a goal, but their style was plenty loosey-goosey to make their coach Dave Hakstol, nervous. He focused on the PK after the Kraken gave up three goals a man down: “We’ve got to do a better job. We gave up three PK [Penalty Kill] goals. That’s not a great formula for on the road,” he said.
Against Los Angeles, a team that admittedly has multiple personalities from run-and-gun to all team defense, the Kraken again played a goal-trading game. They were down a few seconds in, but each team ended up scoring three goals in period one. Is that their Achilles’ heel—they play up, or down, to their competition? The game would feature 17 Goals, 12 of them before the contest was halfway done. Is that the quickest dozen goals in history? Feels like it, but let’s not forget the 1980s.
Afterwards, Hakstol was shaking his head. “It was not a well-played hockey game … when you look at types of chances and goals against and things like that.” He said it was better to be on the winning side than the losing side, but “It’s a crazy hockey game.”
In terms of strength of schedule, note that Seattle has played a lot of tough teams so far this year, including Carolina, Vegas, St. Louis, and Colorado, but they also had a week of Chicago, Buffalo, Vancouver, and Pittsburgh, though that produced only four of eight possible points.
Fourth, is there a downside? Well, many people are disappointed in the jerk-around they’ve given their 2022 draft star, Shane Wright, who was an absolute gift with their fourth pick. By all rights, Wright should be in a Montreal uniform right now, or safely ensconced in a high-profile Junior team (he’s currently the property of Kingston of the OHL) as directed by the Canadiens, or even by Seattle. Where is he instead? On a five-game conditioning stint in the AHL, allowable because he’s been scratched so much.
The good news is that Wright had four goals in three games after notching but a single assist in 7 NHL games. But run that back: he’s played only 10 games thus far this year at both levels. Beniers has played 22. How’s a player going to develop without reps? How does a young player deal with what appears to be early mismanagement of his career? It can’t be fun, though perhaps being away from the prying eyes that are everywhere in an NHL arena is a relief. “Just play hockey and have fun” type of thing, though a cliché like that hardly belongs when we’re talking about a mangled start to what could be, but is not guaranteed to be, a 100-million-dollar career.
Experts who buried the Kraken in week one of the season now have them as the real thing. 22 games is not enough to say, I don’t think. Let’s check back at 41, when things are halfway done and the doldrums of West Coast travel are setting in and see if the Kraken are doing more than trading buckets of goals on a nightly basis.