After a thrilling 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of their first-round series, the Seattle Kraken extinguished the reigning Stanley Cup champion’s hopes of repeating in one of the biggest upsets of the opening round of the 2023 NHL Playoffs.
For their efforts, the second-year Kraken advance to battle the Dallas Stars (who beat the Minnesota Wild in six games) for the honor of playing in the Western Conference Final. The victor will play the winner of the series between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Edmonton Oilers, two of the Kraken’s Pacific Division rivals.
Related: How The Seattle Kraken Qualified For The 2023 NHL Playoffs
For now, the Stars stand in the way of a Golden Knights-like playoff run, with the Central Division club hoping to reach the conference final for the first time since 2019-20, where they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final. Let’s dive into how the Kraken match up and how they can emerge victorious in Round 2.
Key Battle #1: Dallas’ Stars vs. Kraken’s Depth
Like the Avalanche, the Stars’ offensive exploits are spearheaded by a few elite individuals rather than rolling out four balanced lines.
Although Joe Pavelski’s status for the start of the series is uncertain, he forms one-third of a fearsome forward line when healthy. The Pavelski-Roope Hintz-Jason Robertson triumvirate has been one of the NHL’s most dominant trios in recent seasons and should be the target of the Kraken’s defensive schemes and top shutdown skaters.
Among forward lines to have played at least 300 minutes together during the regular season, the Stars’ top unit ranked fifth by goal share (68.4%) and generated the 10th-most goals per 60 minutes. All three eclipsed 25 goals and 75 points, with Robertson finishing seventh among all skaters in goals (46) and sixth in points (109) while submitting a darkhorse Hart Trophy season.
Related: NHL Expansion History Positive Sign For Seattle Kraken’s Second Season
Through the first round of the playoffs, Hintz leads all skaters with 12 points and is tied for third in goals (five), but Pavelski’s injury (he’s only played in a single game thus far) has forced Stars head coach Pete DeBoer to juggle his lines.
In total, the Stars had six skaters score 20 or more goals and saw veterans Jamie Benn (33 goals, 78 points) and Tyler Seguin (21 goals, 50 points) have bounce-back seasons. Beyond Pavelski’s return, an X-factor could be the play of rookie forward Wyatt Johnston, who finished fifth on the team with 24 regular-season goals.
For the Kraken, scoring by committee will once again be the strategy, especially with 40-goal scorer Jared McCann and playmaking winger Andre Burakovsky also uncertain to start the series.
In Round 1 against the Avalanche, 15 different skaters scored at least one goal, and three tied for the team lead with two. For reference, Colorado had three players score three or more, with Mikko Rantanen tallying seven goals on his own throughout the series.
Despite the discrepancy in star power, the Kraken also had six players tally 20 or more times during the regular season, with another two (Burakovsky and Eeli Tolvanen) scoring at a 20-goal pace in reduced appearances.
Consider that McCann led the Kraken in scoring with 70 points during the regular season, a total eclipsed by five players on the Stars’ roster, including Norris Trophy hopeful Miro Heiskanen on the blueline (73 in 79 games).
Although it’s much simpler said than done, the Kraken can exponentially increase their chances of advancing to the conference final if they shut down the Stars’ key offensive talents. Even if they get theirs as the Avalanche’s stars did at times, the Kraken should fancy their chances.
Key Battle #2: Veteran Grubauer vs. Rising Star Oettinger
Judging by their regular-season numbers, the battle in the crease is even more lopsided in the Stars’ favor than it was for the Avalanche. Here are the two starters’ metrics from this season with NHL rank among goalies to have played in at least ten games this season in parentheses:
|Oettinger (Rank)||Statistic||Grubauer (Rank)|
|62 (4th)||Games Played||39 (30th)|
|.919 (8th)||Save Percentage (SV%)||.895 (56th)|
|2.37 (9th)||Goals-Against Average (GAA)||2.85 (29th)|
|.838 (24th)||High-Danger SV%||.801 (57th)|
|0.19 (22nd)||Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) Per-60||-0.02 (41st)|
Jake Oettinger announced himself as a star-in-the-making with an extraordinary first-round effort against the Calgary Flames last postseason. In a tightly-contested seven-game series, the young American netminder posted an extraterrestrial .954 SV% and even made 64 saves before succumbing to the Flames in overtime. His performance was a harbinger of things to come, and he’s played just as well to start the 2023 Playoffs.
Oettinger posted a .929 SV% through six games against the Wild, including stopping 82 of 85 between Games 4, 5, and 6 – all Stars wins. He has the makings of the next great NHL shot-stopper, and the Kraken could find him tough to crack without the likes of McCann.
On the other hand, Philipp Grubauer’s struggles are well-documented, but his first-round performance was a complete about-face compared to the rest of his Kraken tenure.
Staring down his former teammates, the German netminder threw up a .926 SV% while facing the most shots in the first round. In the four games after the Avalanche hung five on him in Game 3, Grubauer only allowed eight goals on 122 shots, good for a SV% of .934 as the Kraken roared back from a 2-1 series deficit.
If the Kraken are to complete a second-consecutive upset, they will have to get this version of Grubauer rather than the one owning some of the league’s worst regular-season numbers since the start of last season.
Key Battle #3: Kraken Penalty Kill vs. Stars Power Play
While upsetting the Avalanche, the Kraken decisively won the special teams battle by neutralizing Colorado’s high-powered power play, which ranked sixth by efficiency during the regular season.
The Avalanche could only capitalize on two of their 18 opportunities with the man-advantage (11.1%), giving the Kraken the second-best penalty-kill success rate in the playoffs (88.9%).
Their penalty kill was effective at suppressing chances (ninth in PK expected goals against per-60), but poor goaltending meant Seattle’s overall kill-rate dropped into the bottom-third of the league. With reliable goaltending, the Kraken PK becomes that much more formidable.
|Stars (Rank)||Statistic||Kraken (Rank)|
|25 (5th)||Powerplay (PP) %||19.8 (21st)|
|9.5 (5th)||PP xGF/60||6.78 (26th)|
|9.3 (5th)||PP GF/60||6.97 (21st)|
|83.5 (3rd)||Penalty Kill (PK) %||76.7 (21st)|
|7.1 (5th)||PK xGA/60||7.35 (9th)|
|5.6 (3rd)||PK GA/60||8.48 (19th)|
Unfortunately for the Kraken, the Stars have been nearly unstoppable in power play situations. They converted on nine of 24 opportunities against the Wild (37.5%), ranking fourth in these playoffs. It’s not as though they beat up on weak shorthanded units either, as the Wild finished 10th in efficiency during the regular season (82%).
The Stars were one of the most dominant teams on both sides of the special team’s ledger in the regular season, so it doesn’t bode well for the Kraken that their ineffective power play made its way to the playoffs. Their 14.3% conversion just barely edges out the Avalanche for 14th overall in the postseason, and the Stars will have all of their big guns in tow.
If the Kraken can maintain their constrictive efforts on the penalty kill, that would go a long way in pushing Dallas to the limit and extending their fairy-tale campaign.
Advantage: Slight advantage Stars
Can the Kraken Extend Unexpected Playoff Run?
As was the case ahead of the Kraken’s first-round affair with the Avalanche, they enter their Round 2 matchup as heavy underdogs against the Stars. Here are several series probabilities from a few of the NHL’s model makers:
|Dom Luszczyszyn (The Athletic)||76%||24%|
The Kraken will be in tough to take down a Stars team that handily dealt with the Minnesota Wild in Round 1. Seattle’s enthralling first-round upset means that Dallas won’t (and shouldn’t) take them lightly.
Even so, it will be difficult for the Kraken to overcome a second group with elite players at every position, especially one operating at full strength.
Marko’s Prediction: Stars win the series 4-2
Data courtesy of MoneyPuck, Natural Stat Trick, and the NHL.