Kraken can still turn season around if goaltending comes through
In some ways, the Seattle Kraken has been exactly who we thought they would be this season. And in other ways, they haven’t been.
When their initial roster was assembled at the NHL Expansion Draft they had the look of a team that had a chance to be strong defensively, weak offensively, with decent goaltending that would give them a chance to win on most nights. Their money was spent on defense (Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson, Jamie Oleksiak, Vince Dunn) and goaltending where they signed a Vezina Trophy finalist (Philipp Grubauer) and one of 2020-21’s best backups who looked poised for a bigger role (Chris Driedger). If they were going to win and compete for a playoff spot, that was going to be the recipe: Strong defense, and stronger goaltending.
Through their first 16 games they have mostly had the defensive play down, and the offense has been about what was expected.
It is the goaltending that has not really provided what was hoped. Or anything close to it, really.
Following their 4-2 loss to Chicago on Wednesday night the Kraken’s goaltending trio of Grubauer, Driedger, and Joey Daccord has combined for an .871 all situations save percentage, last in the NHL, and an .868 5-on-5 even-strength percentage, also last in the NHL. Goaltending, as always, is the great equalizer in hockey and will elevate average teams to playoff status and take playoff teams and drop them to the lottery. No single position or player can impact a team more, and through the first quarter of the season Seattle is getting a very quick lesson in that reality.
It is especially eye-opening when you look at Seattle’s defensive metrics in front of the goalies where they consistently rank among the best, most efficient defensive teams in the league at both even-strength and in all situations.
A quick rundown on those numbers....
- The Kraken allow the fewest 5-on-5 shots per 60 minutes (25.2) and in all situations per 60 minutes (25.6)
- They allow the fewest 5-on-5 total shot attempts per 60 minutes (47.4) and in all situations per 60 minutes (47.0)
- They allow the fewest 5-on-5 scoring chances per 60 minutes (22.2) and in all situations per 60 minutes (22.3)
- In terms of expected goals against and high-danger chances against, they are in the top-five during both 5-on-5 play and all situations.
In other words, when it comes to limiting shots and chances, the Kraken have been one of the best teams across the board. The defense they invested so heavily in is, for the most part, doing what was expected of it, and maybe even better.
But a league worst save percentage can easily make all of that irrelevant.
The popular refrain in this type of situation always comes back to a quality vs. quantity argument in terms of the shots against. But it’s a simple fact that teams that allow the fewest shots tend to also allow the fewest goals (and vice versa) unless their goaltending abandons them.
Of the top-10 teams in shots against so far this season, five of them rank among the top-seven teams in goals against, while only two of those 10 teams rank lower than 15th (Minnesota at 21st and Seattle at 31st).
Of the bottom-10 teams in goals against so far this season, only one of them (Seattle in first place) ranks better than 17th in shots against.
In general more shots, leads to more chances, which leads to more opportunities for something to go wrong, which leads to more goals.
Seattle is the outlier here, and it has crushed their early season record.
But here is the good news if you are a Kraken fan: This is correctable. They have the most difficult part of the process in place (limiting chances) and their starting goalie, Grubauer, has a pretty extensive track record in the NHL that he is better than this. Way better than this. In 227 appearances over parts of 10 seasons he has never finished a full season with a save percentage lower than .915, and he has rebounded from similar slumps like this one he is playing through now.
During the 2018-19 season, for example, his first as a member of the Colorado Avalanche he went through a 13-game stretch in the middle of January and February with an .870 save percentage (worse than his current mark through 13 games). He followed that up with a .950 save percentage over the next 13 games. These things have a tendency to balance out over the course of a season, especially when you are dealing with players that have an extensive track record (one way or another) in the NHL.
If it is going to happen for Seattle, it better happen quickly because the schedule over the next couple of weeks is going to be an absolute bear. Their next five games are against Colorado, Washington, Carolina, Tampa bay, and Florida. The defense is going to get challenged, and the goaltending needs to come through, but there is still a chance to turn this around.
But it is going to have to happen soon.
(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)