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Why the Kraken seem like a legitimate playoff team


Inside the NHL

Thanksgiving is typically when we start evaluating the NHL’s postseason possibilities, given that teams with playoff positions in late November qualified 77% of the time during the salary cap era.

Last season we actually turned off chances of the Kraken using this festive dimension. now the opposite is true. If the season ended today, the Kraken would not be alone make the playoffs but enjoying home-ice advantage in the first round.

In fact, analytics website MoneyPuck has the Kraken at a 98% chance to make the playoffs and — get this — an NHL-best 11.9% chance to make the playoffs win the Stanley Cup! You heard right. It helps that some of the NHL’s best teams play in the Eastern Conference and basically eliminate each other before the Kraken meets the survivor.

But where does this Western Conference optimism come from for the Kraken franchise going into year two?

Well, only the league-leading New Jersey Devils experienced a bigger turnaround from last year.

The Devils, 19-4-0 entering Tuesday’s games, have won 16 of their last 17 and scored 38 points on their way to an incredible NHL season-high 135 points. This will be a swing of 72 points from last season.

Now, the Kraken have played two fewer games than the Devils as of Tuesday, but a 13-5-3 record and 29 points have allowed them to reach an impressive 113 points. That would be 53 points better than last season, more doable than the Devils maintaining their pace, but still difficult.

For context, the NHL record for points is 58, set by San Jose from a much lower baseline, going from 24 to 82 points in 1993-94. So the Kraken maintaining its 53-point improvement pace will indeed be a rarity, surpassing Colorado’s biggest cap-era jump of 47 points from 48 to 95 five years ago.

However, the Kraken nearly doubled their points total from last season with a 7-13-1 record. And even a 100-point season would leave them out of the playoffs.

Can they do it?

Well, target production is up 29% from 58 to 75 and is evenly distributed; Jared McCann leads the way with eight, Andre Burakowski, Matty Beniers and Jayden Schwartz each have seven and Jordan Eberle has six. Burakovsky’s team record is 14 assists, Beniers and Eberle have 11 each, Yanni Gourde has 10.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, a major offseason acquisition, is yet to score two goals and nine assists. So there’s room for even more diverse contributions than they got from all four lines.

The number of goals allowed dropped by 18%, from 73 to 60, and that came with backup goalkeeper Martin Jones largely shouldering the load after Philipp Grubauer was injured. Defenders and forwards have tightened up to the point that quality chances in front of certain defenders of the goal are limited.

Advanced stats also show that the Kraken’s No. 3 defense pairing of Carson Soucy and Will Borgen may be the best on the team in preventing goals.

So the likelihood of the Kraken going down overall due to an injury to any of the key players seems relatively low.

When the season started, we thought the Kraken might have an outside shot at even a wild card spot. Now, an automatic playoff position for a top-three finish in the Pacific Division appears within reach.

So maybe it’s not too soon for Kraken fans to raise their expectations and get excited about hockey after mid-April. I can certainly see more reason for optimism than pessimism with a team that was 9-1-1 in November entering Tuesday night’s contest in Los Angeles.

First, the Kraken were 9-2-1 against playoff teams since last season. If you want to prove your spot in the playoffs, beating teams that were just there helps.

The Kraken didn’t enter their record by defeating weaker teams. In fact, some of their toughest struggles have come against NHL players.

Take their road record, my second most important reason why they seem like a legitimate playoff team. The Kraken were 7-1-1 on the road, tied with New Jersey and Vegas for the fewest such losses.

The Kraken’s only road loss in regulation came at Chicago after blowing a multiple goal lead. Their only other road loss came in overtime against Anaheim when another multi-goal lead was blown. Just think of the Kraken’s capabilities finished what they started against the teams with the two worst records in the league.

Now, you have to beat both bad and good teams to make the playoffs, and in the Kraken’s two recent contests, they’ve come close, again going up by a few goals in Anaheim and struggling against San Jose. So they need to get better at supporting the game over the 60 minutes when they go up against weaker teams.

Especially since their postseason schedule is another reason I’m looking at the playoffs.

The Kraken don’t even face the Arizona Coyotes — the third-worst record in the league and fading fast — until April 3rd. They will play the Coyotes three times in their last seven games.

Not only that, but they will play Anaheim again on March 30th and Chicago on April 8th. That’s five of their last nine games against teams currently ranked among the top three in the NHL.

None of them guarantee victory. But for a bigger schedule, it doesn’t come in a bigger gift box.

The Kraken already enjoy a seven-point advantage over the Western Conference finals wild card team. And the unexpected power vacuum created by rough starts for the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks means a top-three finish in the Pacific Division no longer seems out of the question.

All three should have finished ahead of the Kraken. But on Tuesday, the Oilers trailed the Kraken by five points, while the Flames and Canucks trailed by eight.

The division’s third-place Kings are two behind them, while the second-place Kraken have three games in hand, making Tuesday night’s matchup all the more important.

Of course, none of this remotely translates into planning the route of the Cup parade. Better to worry about qualifying for the franchise’s first playoff game before getting excited. But you’d rather Kraken win when all the other teams are playing catch-up than the other way around.

And hey, they’re seventh overall out of 32 teams in points. They are fourth in the NHL in points.

In other words, the vast majority of NHL teams should be chasing them for what promises to be an exciting few months ahead.

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