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Geoff Baker: The Kraken's biggest issue right now? Look no further than the net.

Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times on

Published in Hockey

TORONTO — Exactly one year ago Wednesday, the Kraken participated in what was either one of the best or worst NHL games ever played.

They headed into Los Angeles and defeated the Kings by a 9-8 overtime score that had pond hockey enthusiasts everywhere dancing in their tuques. For the Kraken, who won for the sixth straight time on their way to seven consecutive victories, the epic November clash epitomized much of what went right for them during the 2022-23 regular season.

Namely, their ability to score their way out of trouble when everything else let them down. That’s gone away this season and, judging by what’s there and what’s awaiting off the injury list, a flood of bailout goals per game isn’t coming back.

And that’s OK. Winning 9-8 is never a sustainable formula. The ability to prevail in low-scoring, tight games can be. But for the Kraken to do that, it isn’t a bundle of additional scoring they’ll need. It’s better goaltending.

They are 0-15 in games in which they fail to score at least four goals. And that simply isn’t playoff worthy, even if they garnered a handful of points from overtime and shootout losses. The most prolific NHL offenses barely average four goals per game. So, a Kraken offense that’s recently shown signs of at least averaging three goals a night needs its goalies to start making some stops. Even stops they aren’t necessarily “expected” to make.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which side of the best-or-worst-game equation Kraken coach Dave Hakstol was on after that 9-8 debacle. Hakstol, forever the champion of his teams being comfortable playing in 2-1 games, was inwardly horrified at how his squad threw defense in the dumpster and then watched goalie Martin Jones leap right on into the garbage pile along with it.

 

That marked the beginning of the end for Jones, the fake aura of his netminding Messiah status suffering a serious pinprick that bled the air out of his inflated hype balloon by January. As for Hakstol, he’d spend the rest of the season espousing the value of playing with a cool head in 2-1 games. It was a strategy that eventually reaped dividends when the Kraken pulled off the biggest win of their brief history by that exact score in Game 7 of their opening round playoff series upset of the Colorado Avalanche.

Want to know what else happened that playoff game? Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer stole the show. In his signature Kraken moment, Grubauer stood on his mask-covered head and denied the Avalanche anything in an opening period in which they came at him with everything.

Grubauer wasn’t “expected” by the advanced analytics folks to stop all the pucks he did that night. But his team needed him to.

Fast forward and things have changed quite a bit for the Kraken. Oh, sure, Hakstol would still love him some 2-1 victories. Especially given that he won’t soon be beating the Kings again — or anybody else — by a 9-8 count. Nine goals these days represents a two-week Kraken output at times.

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