Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Three thoughts on how the Kraken did over their first 50 games

The Seattle Kraken need Matty Beniers to return to 2023 form, when he won the Calder Trophy as top rookie.    (Jennifer Buchanan/Seattle Times)
By Geoff Baker and Kate Shefte Seattle Times

With the NHL All-Star Game over, with Kraken winger Oliver Bjorkstrand becoming the first Danish player to score in such a contest, it’s time to look back on what his team did the first 50 games and where change is needed.

The Kraken stumbled out of the gate but managed to finish 21-19-10 while trailing three teams by two points in the Western Conference wild-card standings. Kraken writers Geoff Baker and Kate Shefte take a look at what happened.

What’s the biggest thing you took from 50 games?

Baker: They need to score at least three goals per game, and ideally four. Unfortunately, they’ve scored two or fewer in nearly half their games – 23 out of 50 – and if that continues, they will indeed miss the playoffs.

But score three most nights and not just 54% of them, things could flip dramatically. It’s all about goalie Joey Daccord, who usually allows two or fewer and rarely three. So, the offense needs one more goal than that. That’s Analytics 101.

When they score three or more, they are 19-2-6. In 27 such games, they’ve gotten points 25 times. In 20 starts backstopped by Daccord after Philipp Grubauer’s injury, the Kraken went 10-0-2 when scoring at least three times.

Heck, they have Danish All-Star trailblazer Bjorkstrand. Also 40-goal man Jared McCann. Perennial 20-goal men Jaden Schwartz, Tomas Tatar and Jordan Eberle. Calder Trophy winner Matty Beniers and a blossoming Eeli Tolvanen. Don’t tell me they can’t score three freaking goals.

And with at least four? They are 16-0-0.

The reasons they haven’t scored three? Beniers has been a nonfactor and that probably impacted linemate Eberle’s game and vice versa. Schwartz going down hurt their drive to the net. Andre Burakovsky being out limited their creativity and entries through the neutral zone, something Tatar’s mid-December acquisition helped alleviate.

But this offense is healthy again. There’s no reason – after averaging 3.5 nightly goals last season without Burakovsky for much of it – that they can’t score that third goal.

Shefte: Score more, win more – seems legit. My general theme of the past four months is that lightning hasn’t struck twice. Coach Dave Hakstol’s staff put together a plan for their group comprised of mostly spare parts, via the NHL expansion draft, and that machine was humming through most of last year. They were never down for long and blew by expectations.

The Kraken front office allowed a huge chunk of its scoring depth to depart in free agency and signed a few long-shot replacements. Not much else happened last summer. It seemed, at least to me, to be treading water, trusting in the status quo after a fairly small sample size. Outputs across the board have dropped and Seattle has been just outside the playoff picture, at best, this whole season to date.

If it sounds like I’m eulogizing this group, I’m not. Just because it didn’t work the same way doesn’t mean it won’t at all. If the Kraken can build some momentum and string together a few more winning streaks – preferably without the long slumps in between, but let’s not shoot for the Dallas Stars here – they’re still positioned to squeak into the postseason again.What’s the biggest thing you took out of the last two weeks?

Baker: This team still stops playing at key moments. Seriously, those Chicago and Columbus wins the last homestand were brutal.

Daccord deservedly got the first star against Chicago even with his team scoring six times! The Kraken scored three goals in the opening period of the Columbus game, then stopped skating and needed an empty-net goal late with the Blue Jackets pressing. Against St. Louis, the Kraken went up 3-1 halfway through. But the spigot turned off again and they lost 4-3 in overtime.

So, that tells me after a season of preaching about playing 60-minute games, the message still hasn’t sunk in. Look, there isn’t an NHL team out there that doesn’t take nights off to rest up during an 82-game grind. What concerned me this last stretch was the Kraken seemingly eased up in eight consecutive games. The first three were against good teams on the road after the nine-game win streak, then a home loss to Toronto was with half the team seemingly sick or hurt.

But the last four? Nope. I’m getting whiplash trying to figure out whether these are the right guys for the job. We’re about to find out.

Shefte: I’m not as worried about doing just enough against teams that only need just enough, so long as they get finished off in the end. Call it conservation of resources. Phone it in against teams like Chicago and Columbus, now’s the right time in the season and those are the right teams. Worry more about bad wins closer to the playoffs, assuming that’s still a concern.

That 2-0 loss to the Sharks, however, was hard to watch. You could see it coming at about the first intermission, when it was still scoreless. They offered up in the postgame that San Jose was tough defensively and its goaltender, Mackenzie Blackwood, was the difference – they were fine. The Kraken could have and should have handled that. Credit your opponent, of course, but that was a bad loss, and the Kraken did it to themselves.

What’s the biggest impediment to the Kraken making the playoffs?

Baker: They are running out of time to get it together.

This post-break stretch will immediately test Hakstol’s coaching staff. He needs players producing with heightened urgency. I mean, during that tough opening 10-game stretch of season, the team significantly elevated play the final four. That tells me they weren’t prepared enough beforehand.

And they can’t let this two-point gap in the wild-card race grow to five or six by starting this East Coast swing the same way they just played their last four games. Do that, the season could effectively be over.

They’ll also need Daccord big-time, and I don’t like him starting 20 of the last 22, especially with Grubauer a healthy scratch the last four. That’s burnout waiting to happen. He yielded four goals in three of his last eight starts after doing that just once the prior 13.

Shefte: It’s funny, we were so positive about their playoff chances so recently. The scuttlebutt is all doom and gloom, following the nature of this streaky team – when they’re on, they can carve their way through a month of the schedule without a regulation loss. The things that brought them back down were key injuries and a locker-room illness.

It sounds basic, but I don’t know how else to put it – confidence. And a healthy Vince Dunn and Adam Larsson. During those four games, when Dunn was injured and Larsson was sick, it was apparent how so much of the Kraken offense runs through its top defensive pairing, not to mention how counted upon they are on the back end.

The Kraken have the potential. They showed it in December and early January. As long as Daccord is still going, it doesn’t have to be pretty, just composed.