Don’t look now, but the Seattle Kraken – a franchise in its second year of existence – are two wins away from reaching the 2023 Western Conference Final. They lead their second-round series against the Dallas Stars by a score of 2-1 and are coming off a convincing 7-2 blowout victory in Game 3, where they chased Stars’ starting goaltender Jake Oettinger.
Game 4 of the series is slated for May 9th and represents an opportunity for the Kraken to firmly entrench themselves in the driver’s seat by taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. If the Stars emerge victorious, the series becomes a best-of-three affair, with Dallas retaining home-ice advantage.
Although the outcome is far from set in stone, three games are large enough of a sample to begin pinpointing some early patterns that have defined the series to date. Let’s dive into the three key trends dictating the early storylines in this Western Conference Semifinal series.
Kraken Special Teams Performing as Expected
Throughout the regular season, the Kraken ranked in the NHL’s bottom third according to both their power play (21st with 19.8%) and the penalty kill (21st with 76.7%). Trotting out middling special teams units is rarely a recipe for success in the regular season, let alone the playoffs. Still, the Kraken made it work on the way to a 100-point campaign and a first-round date with the Colorado Avalanche.
Related: 2023 NHL Playoff Preview – Seattle Kraken Vs. Dallas Stars
Despite eventually prevailing in a thrilling seven-game series, the Kraken saw their regular-season performance replicated against the Avalanche. They owned the third-worst power play in the first round (14.3%) but shockingly shut down an Avalanche club that boasts a number of the sport’s top offensive players and carried the sixth-best power play into the playoffs. Their 88.9% success rate while shorthanded ranked second in Round 1 and was a major factor in the upset.
Through the first three games against the Stars, the special teams have reaped more of the same. They’ve scored on 16.7% of their opportunities (one out of six), which is less than ideal. Still, the Kraken penalty kill has continued to deny opposing power plays, erasing seven out of the Stars’ eight total opportunities.
|Statistic||Kraken (Round 1)||Kraken (Round 2)|
|PP Expected Goals For/60||4.54||4.9|
|PP Scoring Chances For/60||32.4||45.1|
|PK Expected Goals Against/60||8.1||11.4|
|PK Scoring Chances Against/60||69.1||71.6|
As the data from Natural Stat Trick demonstrates, the Kraken’s fortunes on the power play and penalty kill have gone in different directions. They’ve slightly increased their offensive generation on the power play by expected goals (xG) and scoring chances (SC) but have also seen the Stars challenge their penalty kill more often and in more dangerous areas than the Avalanche had managed.
Overall, the Kraken rank last in the playoffs by xGF per-60-minutes and SCF per-60 and are near the bottom in xGA and SCA per-60 while shorthanded. Seattle has survived the subpar and inconsistent performances delivered by their special teams, but they may not be able to avoid repercussions for much longer.
Kraken Continue to Score by Committee
Most of the trends which powered the Kraken into the playoffs have persisted, with their balanced scoring overwhelming opposing defenses and making them a more versatile unit.
Against the Avalanche, the Kraken had 15 different skaters score at least one goal in the series, with Morgan Geekie, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Jaden Schwartz tying for the team lead with two apiece. With so many potential contributors, other teams struggle to decide where to allocate their top defensive pairs and forward lines, even if the Kraken lack a true superstar (Jared McCann’s 40 goals aside).
Through the first three games of the second round, 10 different Kraken players have hit the scoresheet with a goal, with Jordan Eberle already potting three goals to exceed the leading tally from the last series.
Overall, 10 different Kraken players have scored at least two goals over 10 playoff games, with five scoring three or more. The discrepancy in team strategies is clear when you look at the respective team leaders. Eberle leads the Kraken with four goals which would only rank third on the Edmonton Oilers roster, and are a far cry from Leon Draisaitl’s record-breaking pace of 13 goals in eight games.
The Stars count four players with at least four goals on their roster in these playoffs, getting a little more of a boost via Joe Pavelski, Roope Hintz, and Tyler Seguin (each has five goals).
The Kraken have been without the services of McCann since leaving Game 4 of the first round due to injury, so it’s unfair to blame the team for not having a shining star up front like some of their competitors.
For now, the Kraken will have to believe in their depth and hope a balanced distribution of offense is enough to overcome a Stars team temporarily without the services of star defenseman Miro Heiskanen.
Stars Winning 5-on-5 Battle
The Kraken struggled to generate shots and create chances through the first half of the first round against the Avalanche and finished with about a 48-49% share of shots and scoring chances at 5-on-5. Even though they currently hold a 2-1 series lead and have outscored the Stars 14-10 in all situations, the 5-on-5 battle is looking even more lopsided in the Kraken’s opponent’s favor than it did in Round 1.
|Statistic||Game 1||Game 2||Game 3||Series|
In fairness to the Kraken, their overall 5-on-5 numbers for the series are heavily skewed by an abysmal showing in their 4-2 loss in Game 2. On the series ledger, the Kraken have one strong performance (Game 3), one average (Game 1), and one awful (Game 2) showing. On the whole, a 2-1 series lead seems like a fair outcome through three games, but performances like the one in Game 2 must be avoided if they hope to pull off a second-consecutive postseason upset.
Kraken on the Brink of 2023 Western Conference Final
After their extremely underwhelming debut campaign, the Kraken have defied all preseason expectations by reaching the second round of the playoffs in just their second year of existence. Slaying the defending Stanley Cup champions adds to the lore and makes their current stretch of play all that much more impressive.
Led by a hardworking group of players and backed by a rabid fan base, the Kraken have quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the NHL. Their success is a testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved with the organization. If they can continue their impressive play, the Kraken could be on their way to a historic playoff run that could rival the one enjoyed by their expansion cousins in the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018.
Even if the road ends here, the organization can be proud of all that has been accomplished over the course of the 2022-23 season. The future of the franchise is bright and should be buoyed by a budding but already fruitful prospect system. Now, onto Game 4 with a chance to put the Stars’ season in jeopardy.
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and the NHL.