KRAKEN

Seattle Kraken still looking for consistency, chemistry after another long break

Jan 10, 2022, 11:42 AM
Seattle Kraken Philipp Grubauer...
Seattle Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer makes a save against Colorado's Nazem Kadri on Nov. 19. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Kraken will return to the ice Monday night after yet another lengthy break due to COVID-19 issues with last week’s scheduled opponents, the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators.

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The Kraken have not played a game since their loss to the Vancouver Canucks on New Year’s Day, and it’s an added layer of difficulty for a team struggling to find consistency and chemistry as they navigate their inaugural season. They’ll get a good chance to gel over the next week, though, with five games scheduled through next Monday.

Even when you take the unique nature of this season into account, though, the Kraken are playing far below expectations. They currently sit at 10-19-4 with 24 points, which is last in the Pacific Division by 11 points. FiveThirtyEight.com has them projected to finish the season with just 71 points, a stark contrast to the 92.5 points Vegas oddsmakers projected at the start of the season.

It’s obviously been a disappointing season, but we were cautioned from the beginning not to expect the fairy-tale run that we saw from the Vegas Golden Knights in their first year. If the Golden Knights set the bar unreasonably high, where should it actually be placed? How do the Kraken stack up against other NHL expansion teams?

There have been five other expansion teams in the NHL since they moved to the current 82-game schedule: the Nashville Predators (1998), Atlanta Thrashers (1999), Minnesota Wild (2000), Columbus Blue Jackets (2000) and Vegas (2017). The Thrashers were by far the worst of the bunch, finishing with just 14 wins and 39 points. The Golden Knights’ debut season was the best in NHL history, as they finished with a 51-24-7 record good for 109 points and eventually made a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.

So, where is the common ground between the two? It’s actually right on par with the current projections for the Kraken.

The Blue Jackets, Wild and Predators all finished with somewhere between 25 and 28 wins and 63 and 71 points in year one. When you look back at the entire history of NHL expansion, only the Golden Knights and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were added all the way back in 1925, finished with records above .500. It’s only natural to expect some growing pains along the way, but one issue stands out above the rest because it was supposed to be a strength: the Kraken’s goaltending.

The Kraken are currently dead last in save percentage (number of saves divided by shots faced) at .874, while the league average rests right around .910. When the Kraken signed Phillip Grubauer in free agency, he had never dipped below that league average and was coming off a season where he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy with Colorado. Now, his save percentage has dipped to .882, and he is by far the worst goalie in the league when it comes to goals saved above expected at -22.8, according to Money Puck.

Goals saved above expected is a metric that applies a value to the shots taken based on the chance they have of going in the net, so you get a gauge of whether a goalie is saving a lot of high-danger shots or allowing a lot of weak shots. Grubauer is clearly allowing shots that he should be more than capable of saving, but the Kraken still think he can turn it around.

Eide: Why Seattle Kraken should give Chris Driedger more time in net

Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis backed his goalie in a recent interview with ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski.

“If you look at his career, I think he struggled a little bit going from Washington to Colorado as well,” Francis told Wyshynski. “Look, this was a guy who was a finalist for the Vezina last year. I’m not giving him a total free pass. I think if you talked to him, he would say there are things he needs to be better at and there are saves he needs to make. But I still think he’s a goaltender that can be good for us moving forward, as we build around him and increase our team.”

Grubauer and the Kraken will have their next shot to turn things around when they play their first game in more than a week on the road against Grubauer’s former team, the Avalanche, at 6 p.m. Monday night.

Further reading: Breaking down Seattle Kraken GM Francis’ thoughts on rocky start

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