How The Seattle Kraken Qualified For The 2023 NHL Playoffs

As a result of the Seattle Kraken’s 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on April 6th, the franchise clinched its first playoff appearance in its second year of existence.

The Kraken’s current record of 45-26-8 and their 98 points in the standings has already earned them the greatest second-season improvement by an NHL expansion team ever. They’ve improved by 38 points compared to their underwhelming 60-point debut campaign last season and could eclipse 40 points before the season ends. 

Related: Seattle Kraken Still Face Complicated NHL Playoff Picture

Although the Pacific Division title is out of reach, the Kraken could finish as the third in the division but may enter the 2023 Playoffs as the first wildcard team in the Western Conference. 

As a result, they will earn a first-round date with the lesser of the Pacific and Central Division winners, currently on track to be the defending Stanley Cup champions Colorado Avalanche – quite the reward for such a positive season.

So how did the Kraken engineer one of the best year-over-year turnarounds in NHL history? Let’s dive in.

Vince Dunn Having Norris Trophy-Caliber Season

Long an OSN favorite, Vince Dunn’s performance on the Kraken blueline this season has played a pivotal role in helping the team secure a spot in the 2023 NHL Playoffs. Dunn’s play on the backend has been nothing short of outstanding, showcasing his Norris Trophy-calibre skills in all situations. 

Primarily through his puck-moving ability and keen offensive awareness, Dunn became a driving force for the Kraken’s success, finally achieving a long-awaited breakout season.

Dunn’s quick decision-making and precise passing helped initiate many of the Kraken’s offensive rushes, creating plenty of scoring opportunities for his teammates. His powerful shot from the point and his ability to jump into the rush also made him a threat on the offensive end, contributing to the Kraken’s scoring attack.

Dunn’s 14 goals, 50 assists, and 64 points all represent career highs, and all rank 10th or higher among all NHL blueliners.

Most impressive is that he’s done most of his damage away from the power play. None of his goals have come with the man advantage, and he trails only Erik Karlsson in even-strength scoring with 49 such points.

Dunn has also mainly shed the label of being a defensive liability and has helped the Kraken positively control the run of play at 5-on-5. When he’s on the ice, Seattle has accounted for 55% of all shots, 54.3% of expected goals, and 54% of scoring chances. 

That’s all while being deployed as a number-one defenseman for the first time in his career, as he’s also just outside the top 20 in average ice time. Where Dunn goes, so do the Kraken. So far, all that’s been is up.

Balanced Scoring Throughout the Kraken Lineup

The Kraken’s unexpected success this season can be partly attributed to their balanced scoring throughout the lineup, despite not having a traditional superstar player (although rookie-of-the-year favorite Matty Beniers could get there one day). 

Jared McCann leads the Kraken in goals (39) and points (68), making them one of the only teams in the league without a point-per-game player. Dunn and Jordan Eberle (63) are the only other players to eclipse 60 points in the year.

Other than McCann, five Kraken skaters have scored 19 goals or more, with Eeli Tolvanen scoring at a near 30-goal pace since being plucked off of waivers from the Nashville Predators earlier this season.

One of the Kraken’s secret weapons has been winger Daniel Sprong, who is already onto his fourth NHL organization at the ripe old age of 26. Despite only playing just over 11 minutes a night, he sits third on the Kraken with 21 goals and is one of the most efficient scorers in the league.

Sprong ranks 12th in goals per 60, 19th in assists per 60, and 10th in points per 60 in all situations and sits even higher when isolated for 5-on-5 production. Since he’s only making the league minimum for 2022-23, Sprong is easily one of the best bang-for-your-buck players this season. It’s a story replicated across the Kraken roster and a big reason why the team will feature in the postseason.

The Kraken score by committee and, through a collective effort from players up and down the lineup, have often overpowered more top-heavy opposition. It remains to be seen if such an approach can be successful in the playoffs, but it’s worked until now.

Kraken One of the NHL’s Best Road Teams

Throughout the season, the Kraken have shown a remarkable ability to thrive in hostile environments and win games away from home. Their road record is among the best in the league, showcasing their ability to perform under pressure and find success in challenging situations. 

As of last night’s games, the Kraken are tied for the fourth-most wins on the road in the NHL (25), own the fifth-best road points percentage (PTS%) at .692, and are joint-third in terms of road wins in either regulation or overtime (25).

They ran off an impressive seven-game stretch on a road trip to start 2023, winning six of seven games on the trip, which included wins over the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Boston Bruins, who had yet to lose at home at that point in the season.

It’s a testament to the collective work done by the coaching staff and the players that the team has maintained high levels of focus and discipline, and this should serve them well in a first-round playoff matchup in which they are likely to be the lower seed.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the Kraken have not fared well when playing at home at Climate Pledge Arena. They rank 20th by home PTS% (.538) while only winning 20 games in Seattle, sitting 20th in the NHL in that regard.

The ability to consistently earn points on the road is crucial to remain competitive all season long, where every point matters in the race for the playoffs and home-ice advantage. 

The Kraken’s success away from home helped them accumulate points in tough road games and kept them in playoff contention, even as they struggled at home. Teams have ridden road success in the playoffs before. Could the Kraken be the latest?

Kraken’s Elite 5-on-5 Team Defense

Lastly, the Kraken’s commitment to structured defensive play at both the individual and team level cannot be overlooked. The team’s defensive strategy and collective effort on their own end helped prevent shots, scoring chances, and goals against at some of the stingiest rates in the league.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Kraken have allowed the second-fewest shots, the fifth-lowest expected goals, and the fourth-fewest scoring chances per-60 minutes at 5-on-5 this season.

Although their goaltending doesn’t reflect the environment around them (they rank fourth-last in team save percentage), the Kraken have insulated their crease with a strong defensive casing. 

It’s one of the few positives that the Kraken carried over from their first season and is quickly becoming a cornerstone of the team’s overarching identity.

What can the Kraken Do Next?

The regular season doesn’t conclude until April 14th, so the playoff scenarios are yet to be decided. The Kraken are likely to face the Central winner, meaning any one of the Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, or Dallas Stars could be inviting Seattle to their rink come Round One.

If postseason success is to follow (could the Vegas Golden Knights be the example to emulate?), the Kraken will find it the same way they have all season – through a rigorous commitment to defensive play and balanced scoring throughout the lineup. Bring on the playoffs!

Data courtesy of Hockey ReferenceNatural Stat Trick, and the NHL.

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About Marko Zlomislic 122 Articles
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science. When not covering the Seattle Kraken for Oregon Sports News, Marko can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood. You can yell at him by following him on Twitter or via email at mzlomislic97@gmail.com. He also regularly produces content for The Hockey Writers.