Inside the NHL
NEWARK, N.J. — With the Kraken preparing for Thursday night’s game here against the New Jersey Devils, it seemed time to chronicle how their playoff push won’t be what most Seattle sports fans are used to.
Unlike the NFL, MLB and NBA, the NHL awards a bonus point for losing in overtime or a shootout. Now, I use “bonus” loosely as seasoned NHL-watchers have coined “loser point” as the term best describing it.
The one thing these “loser points” do is make it difficult for NHL teams to gain separation in the standings. The flip side, though, is that once there is separation, it’s tough to catch up.
And that’s why, despite the Kraken’s 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night, they remain in excellent position to qualify for the postseason with 32 games to go. Sure, it appears they’ll spend time without Andre Burakovsky, who was still being evaluated for a leg injury suffered Tuesday and didn’t practice Wednesday with the team.
But with 32 games remaining, most prognostication systems give the Kraken at least a 95% chance at the playoffs.
And a big reason is, the Kraken haven’t just compiled a record inflated by “loser point” pickups. They’ve gained a full two points enough times either by winning in regulation or — and this looms large — in overtime to separate a bit from “loser point” teams.
Remember back in November when Kraken coach Dave Hakstol devoted two days of practice to helping his team have some semblance of an overtime plan? Hakstol knew what every longtime NHL observer does: Getting beyond an acceptance of collecting “loser points” matters. And picking up two points instead of settling for one after a regulation tie really starts to pay dividends as a season progresses.
“Those points are extremely important,” Hakstol said in November after his team lost its first three overtime games. “We all know that as the league continues to tighten up, the potential for more of those overtime games and overtime points is going to be there.”
Since then, the Kraken have won their past four games decided in overtime. And those extra points loom large.
Despite Tuesday’s flop, the Kraken are 29-16-5. They’re a true eight games above .500 — having won eight more than they’ve lost, overtime points be darned. Another NHL term in vogue during the “loser point” era is “fake .500” and describes teams padding records with single points from overtime and shootout losses.
The Philadelphia Flyers, who the Kraken visit Sunday, are perhaps the fakest .500 team going. The Flyers exited the break just six points out of the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot at 21-21-9, which seemed a perfect .500 record until you consider they’re really nine games under with zero playoff chance. Actually, make that 10 games under with a 1.2% playoff hope — according to the Money Puck analytics website — after the Islanders dumped them Monday before beating the Kraken.
So there’s a lot of “fake .500” helping teams stay closer than they should be. The good news for actual .500 or better teams such as the Kraken is they’ll eventually pick up a few “loser points” of their own to supplement their winning, and that’s usually enough to keep pretenders at bay.
In the Kraken’s case, they’ve gained five “loser points” of their own from the three overtime losses plus two subsequent shootout defeats. Throw those on top of their 29 two-point games, and you see why teams chasing them face such an uphill climb.
A glance at the Western Conference standings entering Wednesday’s games showed the Kraken only five points ahead of the closest team contending for the final wild-card spot. That would be the Calgary Flames, on the outside looking in at 58 points compared with 63 for the Kraken.
But a deeper look showed the Flames were 24-17-10, meaning they’ve stayed close because of 10 “loser points” while playing one additional game. In reality, they’re three games below .500, and to catch the Kraken would need to win at a much higher clip. And the Kraken would need to start losing in regulation at a far greater rate.
That’s why Kraken playoff odds remain so high. They play a bunch of bottom-dwelling teams the final few weeks, and even winning just half their remaining 32 contests probably gets them in.
Remember, it isn’t just the Flames needing to win more for the Kraken to miss the postseason. The Kraken have the conference’s best points percentage because they’ve played fewer games than everybody else. So they’d need the Flames and seven other teams to start winning far more than them.
And that’s not very realistic, as those teams also play each other a fair bit. Some will inevitably lose.
Still, the Kraken haven’t clinched yet.
One thing that could send playoff odds tumbling would be going 0-5 this trip. They have tough games upcoming against the Devils, New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets. Sure, the “fakest .500” Flyers are also mixed in, but the Islanders were supposed to be an easier test, so who knows?
Even minus Burakovsky, the team must generate more offense and start working those games in hand to their advantage to broaden separation from other squads. They began Wednesday a point behind the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights but had played two fewer games. They were also tied with the Los Angeles Kings but held three games in hand.
Had the Kraken gone 5-0 this trip, they’d probably have ample separation to settle the playoff question once and for all. The only unresolved issue would be whether they’d win the division.
That perfect trip can’t happen now, so the door remains open just a crack for some team — remember, the Flames won the division last season — to creep up and bump them out of the conference’s top eight if the Kraken go on an epic losing streak. But the opening is not as wide as “loser points” make it appear.
In fact, despite this tough upcoming stretch, the Kraken have enough cushion to lose more games than they win for a while no matter how close the standings seem. As long as they don’t yank out their own steering wheel, they remain in the playoff driver’s seat.
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