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Kraken Road Trip Recap: We need to talk about the defense

The blue line hasn’t lived up to expectations through five games

NHL: Seattle Kraken at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

It has only been five games.

I want to lead with that because this particular piece isn’t going to be the most glowing analysis of our squid squad. The Kraken wrapped up their opening five-game road trip with a close loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, sending them home to Seattle with a 1-3-1 record. Some things looked great! Philipp Grubauer played like the stud goalie Seattle signed him to be, and Brandon Tanev has apparently morphed into a pure goal scorer now. However, in this small sample size, there has been one significant issue with this team.

Let’s talk about the defense.

Heading into the year, most considered the strength of the Kraken to be its blue line core. The ageless Mark Giordano has not only played well into his thirties, he’s played well into his thirties. Adam Larsson was a solid shutdown defender in his five years in Edmonton. Jamie Oleksiak and Vince Dunn are both young but with quite promising results to this point in their career.

If Seattle was going to have trouble scoring goals this year, they were going to be saved by a strong defense and great goaltending.

Well folks, five games in and Seattle is giving up goals at one of the highest rates in the NHL. Their 3.65 goals against per 60 minutes (GA/60) is the 10th-highest in the league, per Evolving Hockey. Narrowing it down to just 5-on-5 play, it goes up to 3.77 GA/60, 6th-most in the league. Suffice it to say that’s not the defense we were all expecting. What’s going on here?

As it turns out, Seattle is actually about average when it comes to total shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes. They rank 15th in this category both at 5-on-5 and in all situations. But when you take into account the quality of the scoring chances they’re giving up, the high goals allowed numbers start to make more sense.

A graph showing how Seattle allows an average number of shots per game but a much higher number of expected goals per game

While Seattle is basically average in shots against, they are far below average in expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60). Expected goals tell us how likely a given shot is to be a goal based on numerous variables, the most important of which by far is the location of the shot. Shots in close, from a good angle, are much more likely to go in. So while total shots counts each shot attempt as one, expected goals give more weight to those high-danger scoring chances. While the Kraken have been decent (albeit not fantastic) at limiting opposing shots, they have been near the bottom of the league when it comes to the danger of the shots they have allowed—only the Bruins and Hurricanes currently have a higher xG per shot against value than the Kraken.

A table showing the Kraken ranking 3rd worst at average expected goals per shot allowed

Watching the games backs all of this up as well. Seattle has often lost track of the opposing players and let them skate free into the slot, leaving their goaltender hung out to dry.

They’ve also frequently failed to clear away rebounds after their goaltender makes the initial save. It happened in Philly, and it happened again in New Jersey.

It has only been five games. The sky is not falling down, and fellow DJLR contributor Em will tell us more about that later on this week, don’t you worry. The defense has 77 more games (hopefully more!) with which to develop as a group and work out these kinks. The players themselves are more talented than this, improvement will come. Hopefully playing in front of a sold-out crowd at Climate Pledge Arena this weekend will give them the energy boost they need to get things right.