Seattle Kraken Taking Advantage of Underachieving Teams

As their record continues to improve, the Seattle Kraken finally seem to be hitting their stride. Rattling off six wins in their past seven games, they’ve now climbed to second place in the Pacific Division, trailing only the Vegas Golden Knights.

Their recent surge is particularly interesting, as they appear to play up or down depending on their opponent. Most of their recent wins have come against very talented, yet struggling teams. This will certainly offer them a confidence boost, as the wins just keep rolling in. However, two of their most notable losses have come against much worse teams, like the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks.

Why do the Kraken find ways to defeat underachieving teams but then lose to competition that is notably worse on paper? It’s a question they need to answer if they intend to remain hot.

Impressive Wins Over the Wild, Penguins & Flames

After a frustrating loss to the Canucks, the Kraken fell to a 3-4-2 record as of Oct. 27. Since then, they’ve won five consecutive games in impressive fashion, especially their 4-0 win against the Minnesota Wild. In that game, several things went right for the Kraken, starting with a shutout from Martin Jones. His 22-save performance was bolstered by two goals from Alexander Wennberg, one from Jamie Oleksiak, and another from Morgan Geekie.

Morgan Geekie Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Geekie has played a massive role in the Kraken’s recent success against underachieving competition, tallying six points during their five-game win streak. In fact, he’s just the latest player to step up and take advantage of their opponent’s struggles.

The Kraken also tallied two victories in a week against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yes, they have struggled mightily of late, but they are still a tough opponent, especially since they know they should be better. Similar to Geekie’s recent surge, the Blues have gotten a boost from Yanni Gourde and Brandon Tanev, who stepped up in a big way to help stifle the frustrated Penguins. Gourde’s three-point effort and Tanev’s goal and assist were key plays in the 3-2 win on Nov. 5. Having players like these two is one reason why the Kraken tallied yet another win that vaulted them into second in the Pacific.

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The Calgary Flames have dropped to fifth in the Pacific, and the Kraken’s victory in Calgary was impressive, overcoming a 4-2 deficit with under 15 minutes remaining. Despite getting outplayed for most of that game, they rallied to win 5-4 and jump over .500 for the first time this season. They haven’t looked back since then.

Whether it’s the two wins over the Penguins, the comeback victory over the Flames, or the dominant win over the Wild, the Kraken have upped their game against vulnerable teams that find themselves in a rut. Getting their wins when the opponent is struggling is opportunistic and will benefit them in the long run, especially since these teams will likely bounce back as the season progresses.

Disappointing Losses to the Canucks & Ducks

As fun as the wins have been, several of the Kraken’s losses have come at the hands of weaker opponents. The Canucks, Ducks, and Chicago Blackhawks have all handed them defeats this season, and they are all lower in the standings.

Brandon Tanev, Seattle Kraken
Brandon Tanev, Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The wins against the underachieving, talented teams don’t sound an alarm, but losses to the bad ones imply that they might be playing down to the level of competition. Even if you eliminate the opening night loss against the Ducks, their losses to the Canucks and Blackhawks showed deficiencies in their game that only seem to come out against teams that don’t present much of a challenge on paper.

The loss to the Canucks was especially disappointing since they had yet to win a game this season before their matchup with the Kraken. But Vancouver found a way to punish the Kraken in tight, finding most of their shot attempts in the slot or closer.

Kraken & Canucks Heat Map October 27
The 5v5 Heat map from the October 27 Kraken v. Canucks game (Courtesy of NaturalStatTrick

While the shots on goal favored the Kraken, most of their attempts came from around the edges and through traffic so they weren’t considered high-danger chances once they reached Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko. In their winning efforts, Seattle’s offensive attack focused on the inner slot, allowing them to create and finish many chances they didn’t find in their losses. Defensively, they were also much better at holding teams to the outer edges of the slot in their wins against underachieving opponents.

Is It a Problem for the Kraken?

The Kraken won’t always face underachievers but winning these games will only help them moving forward. That said, if they fail to start taking advantage of the teams that aren’t as talented on paper, it will become a concerning trend. You never want to take a team for granted, regardless of their record. Teams that play down to their opponent quickly become bubble teams or miss the playoffs altogether.

Alternatively, the Kraken might be as good as they’ve appeared. The first few weeks of the season were tumultuous, but that may have been because they were working through some early issues, just as those underachieving teams are doing now. If they are just playing to their natural level, perhaps a playoff berth isn’t as far-fetched as it once seemed.

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