Marching into Pittsburgh meant a date with a giant.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang have remained steady around a franchise for 17 years that has added to their trophy case with three more Stanley Cup titles. They are sharpened in big moments, they are a giant in the greatest league in the world, and they are threatening, any given night.
On Saturday night, the Seattle Kraken silenced that threat. Of all players, former Penguin Brandon Tanev, delivered a storybook knockout blow in his first game back since leaving Pittsburgh in the expansion draft, scoring the game winner with 3:39 left in regulation and Martin Jones made 36 saves to lift the Kraken to a 3-2 victory before 18,302 fans on Saturday.
“Personally that’s great for me, but more important this team got six points on the road trip,” said Tanev.
Tanev could have easily shared that he’s kept the receipts, and it's still easy to do it privately. There was no evidence of that in his minute-long huddle with the media, after the game, turning his attention to the basics of beating an experienced juggernaut.
“We understood we were playing against a good group that wasn’t playing their best, but we had to focus on ourselves.”
Against a Penguins team that has uncharacteristically gone 0-5-1 in the last six games, the Kraken have won four games in a row for the first time in franchise history, are now 3-1 lifetime against the Penguins, have swept this year's season series, and have elevated into second place in the Pacific Division after Dallas blew out Edmonton, 6-2.
And with that, Martin Jones followed up his 32-save effort, seven days ago against the Penguins for another gem and his sixth win in a row.
“Our goaltending has been great throughout this road trip,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “From his home performance a week ago, you have to have that in order to have a chance on the road.”
Sidney Crosby, who reached 900 career assists in the NHL, scored a goal and added an assist for the Penguins. The loss was Pittsburgh's first in regulation on home ice this year, falling to 3-1-1 at PPG Paints Arena.
1. GAME OF JONES: For the next couple of weeks in which Philipp Grubauer will reportedly miss action, Martin Jones is doing what everyone hoped he could do: calm the waters with security in net. What’s becoming a trend is now becoming routine: reliable saves when the game’s flow is routine, and the occasional big save when a breakdown occurs. For the most part, the reliable saves were there, and on Saturday, they were enough. His busiest period, the second, included 14 stops and the only blemish was a Sidney Crosby one-timer to the glove side, with Crosby wide open in the slot. He made 35 saves for the win, improved to 8-5 in his regular season career against the Penguins, and since Oct. 25 owns a .937 save percentage.
2. THAT’S LEADERSHIP: With the final game of the trip ending three games in five days, there no excuses to leave any effort on the table. After Saturday's win, the Kraken are home for 19 days – to either play six straight home games, practice, or rest. This game was “empty the tank” appreciation night, and there’s no question about the motor Yanni Gourde possesses and how much it made an impact. He delivered an alpha-dog, step-up, proof-is-in-the-pudding leadership game: getting on the scoresheet for all three goals, and 1:33 of penalty kill time that kept the Penguins special teams on mute.
3. GOING NEXT LEVEL: Check the wins the Kraken have logged as they’re almost at the finish line of 15 games, with ten against teams who made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year: Los Angeles, Colorado, Pittsburgh (twice), Minnesota, and Calgary. Throw in Buffalo too, who they blew out, for this metric: before Saturday, the record of each opponent the Kraken faced was a 31-27-4. Saturday's game was just the third time in eight games they allowed the first goal. Pittsburgh had to wait to do it until the second period. They’re prepared, they’re driven, and they’re getting results. They have closed out opponents the traditional way. They have closed out opponents creatively, and with the game riding on the line. They can win a pretty game, and they can win ugly.
Finding ways to win is often a great recipe for a successful season.
The Kraken will open a six-game homestand on Tuesday, hosting the Nashville Predators at 7:00pm PT (93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network).