Sharks at Kraken Preview: What’s Kraken, Mr. Jones?

San Jose is Jonesing for a win in the Pacific Northwest.

The San Jose Sharks (7-11-3, sixth Pacific) head to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Kraken (10-5-3, third Pacific), who are off to a better-than-expected start to the season. The Kraken won on Saturday in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings thanks to Jordan Eberle’s heroics, while the Sharks had one of the best periods of the season in a 5-1 smackdown of the Ottawa Senators. This could be a big test for San Jose, who have entered into frisky territory after winning four of the last six games.

The Kraken finished their inaugural season as one would expect: terribly. They finished eighth in the Pacific with a 27-49-6 record, good for 60 points and the fourth pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The season was marred by inconsistent goaltending and an offense that was just as inept as the Sharks’.

While Seattle’s expansion draft lacked significant trade drama, general manager Ron Francis moved some key pieces at last season’s trade deadline to acquire precious draft picks. Longtime captain Mark Giordano was sent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a 2022 second-round pick, a 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick. Defender Jeremy Lauzon was sent to the Nashville Predators for a 2022 second-round pick. Mason Appleton was shipped to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2023 fourth-round pick. Marcus Johansson was traded to the Washington Capitals for Daniel Sprong, a 2022 fourth-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round pick. Calle Jarnkrok went to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2022 second-round pick, a 2023 third-round pick and a 2024 seventh-round pick. Finally, the Kraken received Victor Rask from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for future considerations.

At the draft, presumed first-overall draft pick, Shane Wright, shockingly fell to the Kraken at number four. Wright made the NHL out of training camp and is now with the Coachella Firebirds for a conditioning stint. The Kraken will have to make a decision soon on whether Wright will stay in the NHL or be sent back to the OHL before officially burning the first year off of his entry-level contract.

This off-season, Francis added some scoring punch by acquiring Oliver Bjorkstrand from the Columbus Blue Jackets, sending a 2023 third-rounder and a 2023 fourth-rounder in exchange for the Danish winger. Bjorkstrand potted 28 goals and dished out 29 assists last season. Former Colorado Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky signed a five-year, $27 million contract this summer after setting a career-high of 22 goals and 39 assists playing for the Stanley Cup champions.

With goaltender Chris Dreidger tearing his ACL this summer, old friend Martin Jones signed a one-year, $2 million contract to back up Philipp Grubauer. Blueliner Justin Schultz  also signed for a solid two-year, $6 million deal to help solidify the back end.

Sharks fan favorite, Joonas Donskoi, joins Dreidger on injured reserve, as well as defender Jamie Oleksiak. Donskoi has yet to play a game this season and Oleksiak is eligible to return at any time.

Nico Sturm was a last minute scratch for Monday’s game against the Senators and will not travel to Seattle. James Reimer is also dealing with a minor injury and is not travelingwith the team; Aaron Dell has been called up in his stead. Radim Simek is still considered day-to-day, but is eligible to return for tomorrow’s game.

De-fense (clap clap clap)

San Jose’s offense has been coming to life recently, but Seattle’s defense is a different animal, smothering opponents while allowing the fourth-least shots on goal in the league. This, paired with Martin Jones’ excellent play this year creates a problem for opposing offenses, who struggle to get quality and quantity shots. The Sharks are going to have to work for each goal and hopefully take advantage of a Kraken penalty kill that is ranked near the bottom at 74.5 percent.

This is the one advantage the Sharks do have this season — while the Kraken’s power play has improved from 14.5 percent last season to 22.6 percent, San Jose’s penalty kill remains elite and has moved into number one in the league. The Sharks haven’t given up a power play goal in six games and allowed a whooping total of two in the month of November.

Goaltender Redemption Tours

Martin Jones is being paid more money by the Sharks to not play hockey for them than the Kraken are paying for his play. This year, Jones has been nothing short of spectacular and taking full advantage of his new dad powers. The veteran netminder has posted a .913 save percentage (SV%) and 2.30 goals against average (GAA).  His 7.8 goals saved above expected (GSAx) ranks eighth in the NHL.

For comparison, during the 2020-21 season with San Jose, he posted -18.9 GSAx in 34 games.

Kaapo Kahkonen is expected to get the start for San Jose while Reimer is dealing with a minor injury. Kahkonen has not had the season that fans had hoped for so far, but is coming off his best performance of the year against Ottawa. The 26-year-old has struggled with high-danger saves, posting a .556 high danger SV% prior to Monday’s game, but went a perfect 8-for-8 against the Senators. The Kraken rank 23rd in high-danger chances at 5-on-5.

With Reimer being shelved temporarily, this could be a perfect opportunity for Kahkonen to continue to find his game.

Slowing down the Kraken offense?

The Kraken’s offense is cracking this year. After averaging a paltry 2.60 goals per game last season, the team has moved to the middle of the pack with an average of 3.22 goals per game this year. The key has been a balanced attack, with 19 players having contributed a goal. The Sharks are more top-heavy, relying on Timo Meier, Erik Karlsson and Logan Couture to carry the scoring load.

Seattle has also done a great job at taking advantage of opportunities this season. While the Kraken haven’t controlled the pace of play as one would expect, they are finishing on those chances. While Seattle ranks 23rd in high-danger chances, they also rank fifth in high-danger goal percentage. When a quality chance come, the Kraken usually take advantage of it.

Bold Prediction: Erik Karlsson continues his wizardry by adding a goal and an assist, but the Kraken’s defense proves to be too much as the Sharks lose 3-2.