With less than a handful of games left, the Chicago Blackhawks' head to Seattle to face off against the Kraken while still in the running for the best odds in the NHL Draft Lottery.
Though tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks at 56 points in 78 games, The Blackhawks are currently third-to last by the tiebreaker of regulation wins.
In comparison, the Kraken clinched their first playoff berth in franchise history when they beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 on Thursday night. It was also their 44th win of the season, the most by a team in their second year since the Original Six era. While it's likely they'll stay in the top wild card spot and face the top seed from the Central Divsion to open the playoffs, there is an outside chance the Kraken can break into the the top-three in the Pacific. For this reason, they're going to be looking to go all out against a Blackhawks team probably looking to play spoiler.
Seattle has been building up steam lately by winning three straight, a strong showing after they'd been oscillating between wins and losses the 10 games prior. Only Edmonton, Colorado, and Vegas have better records in the same span in the West. In their latest win, the Kraken's top line of Jared McCann, Jordan Eberle and Matty Beniers had an eight-point night and each player on the line scored a goal. Defenseman Vince Dunn scored the other goal.
The Kraken are still the only playoff-bound team without a point-per-game player, but they also have the fourth best goals per games rate (3.54) in the league. This is mostly thanks to having eight forwards in their top-nine producing at least at 0.5 points per game, though the four players mentioned above are the ones really leading the pack. McCann will likely hit 40 goals – he's at 38 right now – while Eberle and Dunn are having very solid campaigns with 61 and 64 points in 78 games, respectively. Beniers is easily the leader for the Calder Trophy as rookie of year: his 56 points are 22 more than the next closest, Owen Power with Buffalo, and he's favorited over rookie goaltender Logan Thompson with the Golden Knights. Defensemen like Adam Larsson (32 points) and Justin Schultz (31 points) are also offensive contributors.
So why aren't the Kraken higher up in the standings with their high-powered offense and solid shot suppression (second in the league with only 27.0 shots against)? Well, the last Blackhawks' games against the Kraken act as a perfect example of Seattle's greatest weakness: goaltending. The Kraken won 8-5 over Chicago back in mid-January, showcasing their offensive prowess. But the more interesting point was giving up five goals to these Blackhawks. It was a common sight and would continue be so the rest of the season: Seattle has allow allowed five or more goals against 21 times this season now. To put that into perspective, the Blackhawks – who again are battling for a last place finish – have allowed five or more goals against 20 times this season. The Kraken had to rely on outscoring their goaltending woes to defeat an offensively inept Blackhawks team – seriously, they've been dead last in the league for a few months.
The two most responsible for this are Philipp Grubauer and Martin Jones. Grubauer has had two games in a row with a save percentage of .930 or better, but both games were against the basement-dwelling Coyotes, and he's otherwise been hovering around .890 for the season. Jones has only gotten above .900 once in his last 10 starts and his season save percentage of .888 is equally as disappointing as Grubauer's. If there is a way for the Blackhawks to spoil the Kraken's hope of inching their way up the standings, it'll be by taking advantage of the Seattle goalies – especially when the latter are on the penalty kill, where they are successful only 76.3 percent of the time (almost bottom-10 in the league).
Tale of the Tape (statistics from this season)
Blackhawks — Statistic — Kraken
43.24% (31st) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 52.67% (5th)
42.03% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 51.67% (12th)
2.41 (32nd) — Goals per game — 3.54 (4th)
3.60 (25th) — Goals against per game — 3.09 (15th)
52.6% (6th) — Faceoffs — 45.3% (31st)
16.1% (29th) — Power play — 19.6% (21st)
76.4% (21st) — Penalty kill — 76.3% (22nd)
How to watch
When: 9 p.m. CT
Where: Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WGN 720