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Game Preview #51: New Jersey Devils vs. Seattle Kraken

The Devils play their second game after the all-star break against the Seattle Kraken, who are, surprisingly, one of the top teams in the west. Learn more about tonight’s matchup in this New Jersey Devils game preview.

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NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Seattle Kraken
Seattle star defenseman Vince Dunn in action
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils versus the Seattle Kraken. Canucks Blog: Davy Jones Locker Room.

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: MSG, ROOT-NW

The Devils’ Last Game

In the Devils’ first game back after the all-star break, they got the 5-4 win in overtime against a hapless Vancouver Canucks team, despite sloppy, careless play. Jack Hughes and Ondrej Palat both scored two goals apiece, with Jesper Bratt getting the overtime winner on a 4-on-3 powerplay. After conceding the first goal of the game, the Devils were up 4-1 by the middle of the second, looking set for a comfortable victory. However, Vancouver scored three straight, forcing Bratt to save the second point which had almost been thrown away.

Vanacek won his tenth-straight start, despite a sub-standard effort, with 26 saves on 30 shots and -1.49 goals saved above expected. Also per Moneypuck, only the Palat-Hischier-Bratt line was above 50% in xG for percentage, of the groups which played significant time together. Graves-Severson and Siegenthaler-Hamilton did well, but Smith-Marino were poor — perhaps not surprising in the latter’s first game back after a lengthy injury layoff. Overall, a careless performance from the Devils. Check out Matt’s recap of the game here.

The Kraken’s Last Game

Also in their first game of the post-all-star-break section of the season, Seattle were shut out in a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. Looking at the Deserve To Win O’Meter it wasn’t even close, with the Kraken utterly dominated by the Fishermen, led by the newly acquired-and-signed Bo Horvat, who got his 32nd goal of the season and first as an Islander.

In net for the Kraken was Martin Jones, who saved 0.56 goals below expected and 85.7% of shots on net in a performance where he received little help from the defense in front (or not in front) of him. Jared McCann was the only Kraken to play above 50% in xG for percentage with 55%. Especially dominated were the Jadon Schwarz - Mattie Beniers - Ryan Donato line and the Jamie Oleksiak - Will Borgen pairing, units that were both below 25% in 9 and 15 minutes of 5-on-5 TOI, respectively.

Clearly a bleak performance, with little to note of offensive relevance. Check out the opposition’s opinon over on the wonderfully-named Kraken blog here.

How Are the Kraken Going Generally?

After being an irrelevant expansion team last year, Seattle sit second in the Pacific division with a 92% chance of making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, per the Athletic’s model. Previously in the season, they set the record for longest swept road trip in NHL history with seven road wins on the bounce. Rookie Matty Beniers is the current bookmakers’ Calder-trophy favourite and is looking like a legitimate first-line NHL center. Adam not-Taylor-Hall Larsson is having a great defensive season, sitting fourth in the entire NHL in plus minus — a stat which I am loath to quote unless it is exceptional. Last year goaltending was horrible. This year, it is still below average, but not your-season-is-forfeit-no-matter-what-you-do bad.

Recently — going into the all-star break and the first game coming out of it — things have looked slightly less rosy for the Kraken. They have gone 5-4-1 in their last ten, and have relinquished their hold of the top spot of the Pacific. However, their run-of play numbers have improved, being the 13th best team in the league in 5-on-5 xG for percentage since the 5-4-1 run began, compared to being 17th over the entire season. After their disappointing performance against the Islanders the Kraken will be looking to continue their recently-strong run of play numbers against the Devils (who, incidentally, are 27th in the league in 5-on-5 xG for percentage over the same period where Seattle has improved).

In terms of injury, things are looking ok for the Kraken. Per PuckPedia, only forward Joonas Donskoi is missing. Donskoi picked up his seventh career concussion during preseason and has not played all year. So a relatively healthy lineup for Seattle, which has played well despite Donskoi’s unfortunate absense.

Refer back to the above graphic, The Athletic’s depth chart card for the Kraken, in the following rundown of the Kraken’s team.

The Kraken Offense

The Kraken have been a surprisingly elite offensive team this season, having scored the most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL. However, in terms of expected goals for at 5-on-5, they are below average, at 19th. Indeed, looking at the following grpahic per Moneypuck

they have scored by far the largest amount of goals above expected in the league at 5-on-5. Per NaturalStatrick, their 5-on-5 shooting percentage is 10.53%, which leads the league. San Jose, in second place, are shooting almost a full percentage point lower at 9.61%. Seattle, clearly, are an average team in terms of creating offense at 5-on-5 — 25th in high danger chances for — but have got an insane shooting streak going, which has carried them up the standings.

Looking at the depth chart above, Seattle’s top six is nothing to be afraid of, however, their bottom six is one of the best in the league. The Kraken coaching staff has done a fantastic job of balancing the lineup, creating four lines which are all more or less equally strong: the summed game score value added of each line is 4, 3.8, 3.5, and 3.4, which is a really equitable distribution (the Devils, for comparison, are 7.4, 6.4, 3.6, 0.1). In the last Kraken-Devils game, Ryan Donato scored two goals for Seattle. He is centering the Kraken fourth line. His linemate Daniel Sprong is 8th in the entire league in goals scored per 60 minutes, of players to have played at least 400 minutes. They may not have extreme top-end talent, but the Kraken come at you in waves, so the Devils will need a strong four-line performance to counteract this.

The Seattle powerplay is 21st in the league in terms of conversion rate, scoring at a 20.1% clip. They have created the 26th most high-danger powerplay chances, and the fewest expected goals for in the entire league. These ranks are season totals, but it is not even the case that they are deflated due to Seattle not spending as much time on the powerplay as other teams: they are 15th in powerplay time on ice, and — although below average in terms of penalty minutes drawn per 60 minutes in all situations — are in a group with teams such as Toronto, Carolina and New Jersey. Even on the powerplay, the Seattle shooting percentage is high, good for 8th in the NHL, but here the shooting luck hasn’t been able to translate into the extreme goal-scoring success seen at 5-on-5, however, it has made sure that they are not as far down as their chance-creation would require.

This is the main story of the Seattle offense this season: they do not create a ton of chances, but they convert on the chances they do create. Devils, beware.

The Kraken Defense

At 5-on-5, Seattle is an above average defensive team, being 12th in goals against, 9th in expected goals against, and 11th in high danger chances against. The six guys shown in the depth chart above have been a tight unit all season, with Cale Fleury having played 11 games as the seventh defenseman, and Gustav Olofsson next with 3. The top pairing of Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn carries the brunt of the workload, having 24:11 and 23:57 of TOI per game, respectively. As mentioned above, Adam Larsson is having a great season defensively. See his 5-on-5 defenisve impact per HockeyViz below.

Thanks to Larsson, opponents create 5% fewer expected goals than league average. The right side of the ice where Larsson plays is especially bleack for opponents. His defensive partner Dunn is having an amazing all-around season, looking like one of the best defensemen in the league, being a 99th percentile defenseman per the Athletic, and being well above average both offensively and defensively.

These two will be out there for almost half of tonight’s game. It will not be easy for the Devils, as they are both very good at what they do.

The Seattle penalty kill presents a real opportunity for the Devils, as it is second-worst in the league, conceding on 72.5% of penalties against. Surprisingly, then, the Kraken have actually given up the 7th fewest expected goals against short-handed, and the 13th fewest high-danger chances against. Where sequencing has previously been in Seattle’s favour, not so much on the penalty kill, as the Kraken are third bottom in save percentage short-handed, and fourth bottom in high-danger save percentage. We get into Seattle’s goaltending next, but note that the powerplay will hopefully play a big part in a Devils victory.

The Kraken Goaltending

After having had worse goaltending than even the Devils last season — with the worst all-situations save percentage — the Seattle goaltenders have rebounded somewhat. Not to miraculous heights, of course — the Athletic gives the Seattle goaltending a D+ in the depth chart above, which is awared relative to the rest of the league — but the Kraken skaters have been given a chance to win this year, something they were denied last season. Martin Jones has been the starter in his first season with the team, coming over from Philadelphia in the offseason. Backed up by Philip Grubauer, this tandem has posted respectable numbers. Per HockeyReference, Seattle has a quality start percentage of 54%, up from 32.9% last year. Looking at the following graphic from HockeyViz, Seattle has conceded just above zero goals more than expected due to goaltending this season, and have lost a couple standings points due to goaltending as well.

From a Seattle perspective, goaltending things haven’t been great, but they been better than last year. From a Devils perspective, goaltending is a weakness of Seattle’s. Put a lot of pucks on net, and good things are more likely to happen than not.

What Are We Trying to Do Here?

What’s the Deal with the Big Deal?

First of all, there was some troubling news out of Devils practice yesterday, with Amanda Stein reporting that The Big Deal Jack Hughes left practice early with an upper body injury.


Hopefully he’s ok. I would rather him sit out this game if he isn’t fully healthy. The Devils will be playing a lot of important games down the stretch, so it doesn’t seem worthwhile risking aggravating a minor injury for a game against a team from the other conference. Completely irrelevant, with no bearing to tonight’s game, of course, but Jack did get injured in the same matchup last year, missing a large portion of the beginning of the season. It would be terribly sad if the same were to happen unnecessarily, with Hughes playing at such a fantastically high level.

Of course, it may have been a precautionary thing, with Jack being completely fine. Let’s hope that’s the case, but I will be worried watching.

A Better Effort Needed

After the win against Vancouver, coach Lindy Ruff was not afraid to show his frustration with how his team played, despite picking up the two points. As I mentioned above, the Devils have — despite getting results — looked not as fantastic as they did early on in the season. A couple of games playing sub-par does not necessarily mean anything, but when it becomes a run of ten or so games, maybe it is time to get slightly concerned. The effort was clearly not good enough against Vancouver, and it has clearly been not good enough in several other games recently. Seattle is a deep team, rolling four lines. The Devils have to match that depth if they want to get anything out of tonight’s game. This starts with setting the tone early, showing that they are aware of having underperformed against the Canucks, and wanting to put that right. Irrespective of the outcome tonight, I want the Devils to play well and dominate the Kraken, or at the very least show the sort of commitment and desire we expect from them. Given that the Devils lost to the Kraken in overtime in the not too distant past, this should only serve as further motivation.

He’s back

It was great to see John Marino out there again after his lengthy injury absense. Although it will take him a while to get back up to speed, it would be a great help to have him back playing as he did before his injury. Kevin Bahl and Nikita Okhotiuk showed flashes of solid play when Marino was out, but they are still raw, and it showed. Marino has played in big games with the Penguins, and his experience will be a massive upgrade down the stretch.

Your Thoughts

So, what do you think of tonight’s matchup? Who on the Kraken are you afraid of? What are the areas of Seattle’s game that the Devils should look to exploit? Are you looking for big performances from any individual in particular on New Jersey? Having gone 8-1-1 in their last ten, the Devils are hot as we approach the trade deadline. Hopefully that form continues tonight. Let me know what you think of the matchup in the comments below, and thank you for reading.