Are the Kraken for real? The optimist and pessimist outlooks

Nov 29, 2022, 9:46 AM | Updated: Feb 5, 2023, 3:38 pm

Seattle Kraken...

Kraken right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand skates to the bench after scoring against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

It would be tough not to get excited about the 13-5-3 start the Seattle Kraken are off to. It has the team in second place in the Pacific Division, looking up at Vegas but only by six points with three games in hand. The start has Seattle looking at the potential of becoming a playoff contender.

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Is the start real? Will it get them to the playoffs?

Your answer to those questions may depend on whether you are an optimist or pessimist. Do you see the Kraken start as the glass half-full, or is that glass half-empty and you still need more to be convinced?

The optimistic outlook

General manager Ron Francis did a masterful job this summer of improving the team, especially on offense. Free agent signee Andre Burakovsky has lived up to expectations and is leading the team in scoring. Rookie Matty Beniers has been as good as advertised, and the team’s goal scoring has jumped from 2.6 goals per 60 minutes last season to the lofty heights of 3.54 goals per 60 so far.

The added offense is leading to more wins, and that output doesn’t really include Oliver Bjorkstrand yet; he’s only scored twice so more goals will come.

Seattle is winning close games it might have lost thanks to the extra scoring. For example, the Kraken came back against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 1 after falling behind by two goals early in the third period – that never would have happened last year.

Speaking of the third period, Seattle is finally closing out games where they have the lead. Yes, they played sloppy for two periods against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, but they turned it on in the third period, getting a go-ahead goal from Daniel Sprong and then shutting down the Ducks the rest of the way to win 5-4.

And how about Sprong? The winger with the heavy shot already has 11 points in 14 games playing mostly on the fourth line. He’s indicative of the balanced scoring that the Kraken have built this season. Seattle already has 11 players who have reached double digits in points and four guys who have seven goals or more.

Deeper scoring is one thing, but no one player is performing above his head and carrying the team. Every night, someone different is stepping up and makes the play.

The Kraken are scoring early and holding on. Last year they surrendered the first goal 51 times over 82 games, but this year they have scored first 13 times through 21 games and are 10-1-1. It’s so much easier to play when you aren’t chasing the game, which Seattle is not doing as much this year.

Ultimately, the start has put them in a playoff position, and from 2005-19 (the pre-COVID era), 76% of teams that were in a playoff position at the time of Thanksgiving in the U.S. ended up making the postseason. So it’s hard to argue that the Kraken won’t get there in season two.

Last season, Seattle was 6-20-0 against the Pacific Division, with half of those wins coming against San Jose. But the Kraken are already 6-2-1 in the Pacific heading into a Tuesday night game in Los Angeles.

Goaltending was an issue last year but the Kraken have found a way to tap into Martin Jones, who is playing the way he did early on in his career. He has won 11 games and has a save percentage up to .903. He’s filled in nicely for injured goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger.

What the pessimist says

It’s much harder this season to be a pessimist, but there are always miserable cynics out there. You can find them on message boards, social media, and among the national hockey media.

The pessimist will tell you they aren’t miserable and are not even cynics – rather realists.

They might point out the fact that Seattle has blown two-goal leads in each of the last three games. The fact that the Kraken would go on to win all three of those games, including a big 4-2 road win for their first victory ever over the Vegas Golden Knights, makes their argument less effective, but it is something to watch. If that becomes a trend, they won’t always win those games.

They might also point out that counting on Jones to continue his hot play is foolish, and he’s allowed nine goals in his last two starts (five in an 8-5 win against San Jose and then four in the 5-4 win in Anaheim). Is this the start of Jones regressing to what he’s been the past three seasons, or just a blip in the season? If it is a trend, can the team count on a rebound from Grubauer, who recently returned from injury, after his worst season as a pro last year?

A pessimist might also point out that the Kraken have not shown that they can come back. When trailing at the start of the third period, the team is 0-3-0 so far. Can they count on building a lead?

The bottom line

The Kraken are far from perfect, but no team is. How the rest of the season plays out is still unknown. But what we do know, whether you’re a pessimist or an optimist, is that they have banked early points and set themselves up well. They could slump and lose eight in a row – which seems unlikely – and still have a .500 record.

That’s a good spot to be in no matter how you view the world and the Kraken.

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