Note: this was wirtten before the Kraken’s 6-1 loss to the Flyers so let’s all just pretend that game did not happen
I was finally able to watch my first Seattle Kraken game from start to finish over the weekend. And boy did I get lucky because it went into overtime so it was even longer than a normal hockey game. Not only was this the first time I sat down on the couch and watched a full Kraken game. I’m pretty sure it was my first time watching all 60 minutes (split into three periods, I know that because I’m a hockey fan now) of any hockey game. I may have watched a handful of playoff games in my time but never with the same intent that I watched this game.
I need to preface this by saying that I don’t know a lot about hockey. All of my very minimal hockey knowledge comes from playing NHL 2K20 for a few months last year and my one friend that actually knows hockey. I know nothing about players but I can recognize quite a few names, that is about the depth of my knowledge of this sport.
I figure that this is as good of a time to start getting to know the sport of hockey as ever. It’s not like I’m surrounded by a bunch of huge hockey stans, the Kraken are a new franchise with a new fanbase that probably can’t even explain icing (it’s ok, I am not very confident I can do that either but I know it when I see it).
If you are a new Kraken and hockey fan just like me then hopefully you can find some solace in knowing that you are not alone in trying to learn this game on the fly. I barely know what I am talking about but maybe that will be a little easier to take in than hearing all the hockey jargon. I have no idea where the slot is on the ice (I’m confident it is in the offensive zone though) or how to gauge the quality of an expected goal rate or wins added metric.
There are some things I do know about this Kraken team after watching my first full hockey game. Unfortunately, that game was a 2-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and not even an entertaining one at that. There were just two goals scored in regulation. NHL teams averaged close to 30 shots per game in 2020-21; the Kraken had 20 shots and the Blue Jackets had 25. Even though this was not the most exhilarating introduction to professional hockey for me, I still had fun rooting for a Seattle hockey team and learned a lot about what to expect from this team going forward.
The biggest thing I’ve learned about the Kraken is that they are different. Not just because they are made up of a bunch of players deemed unworthy of protection by their previous teams. Not just because they wear the coolest jerseys in the entire sport (yeah it’s true, deal with it). This team is unique because of the way they operate when they are on the ice.
This is the text I got during the opening game from my friend that actually knows about hockey: “The Kraken are an unorthodox team and I love it. They are running the equivalence of a press in hockey.” I never in a million years would have realized that watching them myself but I appreciate his analysis and have since fallen in love with that fact. Despite not knowing what ‘forechecking’ meant last week, I love how the Kraken have two forwards forechecking all the time (which I have named the Defensive KrakDown). The Kraken are playing the way that I play NHL 2K20. They chase the puck at all times and just try to create a turnover and an easy shot. It worked for them against Columbus at least once, creating the opportunity for their only goal.
I have gotten so much more invested in this team because of their abstract playstyle. I feel like they are representing hockey fans like me by playing in a way that no other team is playing. I have no idea how much of the stuff they do is different from the rest of the league since I don’t know what an actual hockey strategy is, but I like to think that they are turning the game on its head whenever they take the ice.
It is clear from watching the Kraken play that their main goal is to create chaos, especially in front of the net. They take shots just hoping for a rebound or a deflection (they had a few of those almost work out for them against the Blue Jackets). They have the aforementioned press that is designed to instigate turnovers in the offensive zone. The leader of the chaos also happens to be their leading goal scorer through three games: Brandon Tanev (I mean just look at this guy, he fits the mold perfectly). He was the beneficiary of the chaos against Columbus, scoring the Kraken’s sole goal of the day off a turnover and a terrific goal that got the goalie going the completely wrong way.
Lastly, I need to give credit to the only player on the Kraken that I knew about before the expansion draft: Philipp Grubauer. I knew about the Vezina Award finalist (aka best goalie award, hockey likes to give all their awards fancy names) because he was previously on my friend-that-actually-knows-about-hockey’s favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche. Grubauer is not the best goalie in the league, that honor goes to Andrei Vasilevsky (see I’m learning), but I think Grubauer is a perfect fit in the Kraken’s system.
Due to the aggressive nature of Seattle’s defense, it leaves a lot of open opportunities at goal for the opposing team. A lot of times when the opposing team takes a shot against the Kraken, it is a quality shot that has a better chance of going in. It is why a good team like the Vegas Knights were able to end up with four goals against Seattle, including an early 3-0 lead. Grubauer is the type of seasoned veteran goalie that can hold up against good shots. He is third in the league in both shots against and saves. He does not get rattled when he sees an attacking player streaking at him unopposed. He limbers up and gets ready to snag the puck out of the air with his glove or make a sliding foot save. A lesser goalie would cower like a deer in headlights and give up an easy goal, but Gruby is up for the challenge of manning the net of an expansion team.
I know it has only been three games, but I am very excited for the rest of this Kraken season. Seattle isn’t just going to be the expansion team that tries to follow up on Vegas’s incredible run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. They have their own distinct identity. They are the aggressive team that applies pressure. They are the team that has two-way players all over the ice that aren’t afraid to make a big hit or get in the way of an opposing shot. They are the team with an elite goalie tandem that is going to have to make a bunch of tough saves. They are the team with the best uniforms in the NHL.