Well here we are. The Kraken dropped their home opener to the Canucks in pretty deflating fashion. The team held a 2-1 lead for a good chunk of the third period before two goals in a 3-minute span completely flipped the script on them. An empty-net goal sealed the Kraken’s fate as a 1-4-1 team.
However, there are signs that Seattle will not continue on this path towards the bottom of the standings. There’s a reason most projections saw them as at minimum a fringe playoff team—the talent is there. And it should come back. Here are three reasons we should expect the team to turn things around moving forward.
Jordan Eberle will score goals
I swear he can do it. Through six games, Eberle has played in the top-6 forward group and on the top power play unit. He’s got no goals and two assists to show for it. But the chances, oh the CHANCES, he’s had—he could be the team’s leading scorer with a couple bounces going his way. If you’ve watched the games you know what I’m talking about.
Carter Hart makes an amazing save on Jordan Eberle to save a goal! pic.twitter.com/YSBMbS97eq— Philly Sports Reports (@PhlySprtsReprts) October 18, 2021
If it feels like Eberle has had way too many chances like this to not come away with at least one goal, you’re not wrong. The numbers back this up. While there are several public expected goals models in hockey—all of which seek to weigh shots with the likelihood they’ll turn into goals based on factors like distance and angle in front of the net—every model agrees Eberle shouldn’t be scoreless. And not only that, he’s been one of the unluckiest players in the entire NHL to this point.
The model at Evolving Hockey agrees with the above assessment. They have Eberle with 1.85 expected goals and the fifth-lowest goals above expected in the league. (Sidenote: Joonas Donskoi ranks 14th in the NHL in this too, with 0 goals to his 1.45 expected goals)
All this to say, the goals will come. Scoring trouble in October is actually a pretty frequent issue for Eberle, but he always seems to turn it around and finish the year with respectable numbers anyway.
Eberle moved to the second line with Alex Wennberg and Jared McCann for the home opener. While that line was technically outshot (6 for Seattle vs 7 for Vancouver), Seattle had more high danger scoring chances and more expected goals than Vancouver when they were on the ice, per Natural Stat Trick. With the healthy forward group getting Yanni Gourde and Calle Järnkrok back, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Eberle stick on that second line for a bit. That should ideally give him lesser competition to play against and lead to more chances, which will—I swear, they will eventually—lead to goals.
Philipp Grubauer will make saves
Grubauer was Seattle’s prized free agent signing this offseason. He was the top goalie on the market and the Kraken went out and paid him like it. He’s made a few great saves so far this year, but through six games he’s also let in a few softies that really cannot happen.
Credit to Conor Garland, that’s a great little shot fake before firing a rocket to beat Grubauer five-hole. But man, Gru can’t let one through the wickets like that in the waning minutes of a tie game. He knows it too, as you can see from the way he immediately throws his head to the sky in the unmistakable “I can’t believe that just happened” stance.
Grubauer’s underlying numbers are bad right now, but much of that really comes from that tough outing in Philadelphia that we really don’t need to rehash again here. Over the course of his career (which is a significantly higher sample size than the five games he’s played this season, mind you) Grubauer is a plus goalie in terms of goals saved above expected. Per Micah Blake McCurdy of Hockey Viz, Grubauer has been extremely good at preventing more goals than we’d expect based on the quality of shots faced.
Philipp Grubauer (6x5.9m with Seattle) over the past three seasons: +20.1 goals saved above expected. Very strong. pic.twitter.com/imFmlLwAIg— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 28, 2021
He will rebound from this rough start.
The Kraken will win a lot of home games
Climate Pledge Arena was absolutely rocking last night. A full house of some of the most raucous fans in the country made the environment around the first home game everything we thought it could be. Just check out the raw emotion from the fans and the players after Vince Dunn broke the ice with the first ever goal at the brand new arena:
After that goal at the end of the first frame, Seattle kept the pressure up on their opponent in the final two periods much more than they did in any game on the road trip. During 5-on-5 play in periods 2 and 3, the Kraken more than doubled up the Canucks in terms of expected goals (1.56 to 0.66) per Natural Stat Trick. There was far less sitting back in the third than there was on the road.
All this to say, Climate Pledge Arena should be a tough place to play in for Seattle’s opponents. There are 40 more regular season games in Seattle. If they all go similar to how Saturday night went, the Kraken will win more of them than they lose.