The Kraken Enter The All Star Break In First Place

It’s been night and day, this year compared to last. The Seattle Kraken finished their inaugural season 27-49-6; it’s now only the end of January and they’re already 29-15-5. It’s a remarkable turnaround that has the Kraken in first place in the Pacific Division with 63 points, just one more than Vegas and L.A.

How did we get here? Well, don’t talk to me about goaltending until I’ve had my morning coffee.

The fact of the matter is, the offense has been tremendous. Last year, the Kraken scored 216 goals all season, good for fourth-worst in the NHL. Pair that with 285 goals against – ninth-worst in the NHL – and you get a recipe for a team in the bottom three in the league. With 33 games remaining this season, the Kraken have already scored 177 goals, good for fifth-most in the league. Our goals against are middle-of-the-pack, but even that is a drastic improvement.

So, how does that happen? Well, it’s very much a team effort, as we have zero players in the top 50 in points, and only one player in the top 50 in goals scored – Jared McCann – who is tied for 24th with 23 goals. That shows up in the +/- rankings, where we have six players in the top 50: Adam Larsson (3rd at +30), Vince Dunn (5th at +26), Brandon Tanev (12th at +23), Morgan Geekie (25th at +18), Yanni Gourde and Ryan Donato (34th at +17). Predictably, we had zero players in the top 50 in any of these categories last year.

In spite of only having one goal scorer in the top 50, we have eight players in double-digits, with another three guys right there with 9 goals. I don’t know a lot about hockey yet, but that feels pretty ideal. You don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket, do you? Seems harder for other teams to focus on shutting down any one guy.

If there was that guy, it would probably be our lone All Star, Matty Beniers, in only his second professional season, at the age of 20. He’s certainly lived up to the hype of his status as a #2 overall draft pick. But, you can see he’s still got a lot of room to grow, which is what’s really exciting about all of this.

At some point, you have to talk about the goalies, so let’s get into it.

Philipp Grubauer has effectively lost his starting job to Martin Jones, but I couldn’t tell you if either are worth a damn. Jones is 23rd in the league in goals against (2.82), Grubauer is 31st (3.03). Not a humongous difference, but a difference nonetheless. Their respective save percentages are even shoddier when compared to the rest of the NHL; Grubauer is tied for 37th at .897 and Jones is 41st at .896. But, if you’re an Ends Justifies The Means kind of fan, Jones is tied for second in the NHL in wins with 23! So … maybe he’s good luck? It sure as shit seemed like Grubauer was beaten up with some pretty bad luck in his starts last year; but he also did himself no favors, never bothering to lift this team up on his shoulders, in spite of his considerable contract.

To his credit, Jones has looked a lot better in January, with 2.36 goals against per game, and a .916 save percentage (including 2 of his 3 shutouts this season). He’s a veteran in his 10th season in the NHL, with his best days seemingly long behind him. His heyday was with San Jose, leading them to the finals one year. But, it’s been tough times since then. He signed with the Kraken prior to this season on a 1-year, $2 million deal. Turned out to be a wise move on his part, as there was clearly an opportunity here to supplant an under-performing starter.

What’s been particularly remarkable is how good the Kraken have been on the road, with a 16-5-2 record, including a recent 7-0 road trip through Canada and the East Coast. The team was shaky to start the season (a 3-4-2 start), and had a significant rough patch in December (winners of only 4 out of 12 games), but I would attribute a lot of those more-recent struggles to injuries on the team. Hockey is a physical, violent sport. You’re going to be down a few players every once in a while.

All in all, though, this is a recipe for very strong team-building. It’s a shame the local market hasn’t caught up, as I’m hearing the ratings are pretty abysmal. Is it a byproduct of everyone jumping off the bandwagon after that terrible first season? Is it natural growing pains of trying to introduce this sport into a market that had gone a century without it? I would say things could be helped a lot if there was one singular television network that aired the games. I know Root Sports is “the home for Kraken hockey” or whatever, but they don’t air all the games like they do with the Mariners (speaking of which, the Kraken’s games are often shunted elsewhere when those two teams go head-to-head in the same timeslot). Sometimes games are on ESPN or ESPN 2 or ESPN+, and sometimes games just aren’t on and we all get the fucking finger. I don’t know what it’s like to listen to hockey on the radio, but it doesn’t seem particularly thrilling.

While it’s strong team-building, I don’t know what this will mean for our playoff run this year (assuming we keep this up). I recall playoff hockey being very dependant upon defense and preventing goals, and I just don’t know how equipped this particular Kraken team is at that part of the game. We’ll see; maybe there’s a magical playoff run in our future. But, I’m guessing it’ll be more of a Just Happy To Be There sort of thing. An essential building block for better things to come in the future, but maybe not the dream end we’re all hoping for.

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