Alex Ovechkin, familiar thorn in the side to not just the Seattle Kraken but the entire league, chipped in with a goal and an assist while goaltender Charlie Lindgren made 25 saves to help push the Washington Capitals past the Seattle Kraken, 4-1 before 18,573 fans at Capital One Arena on Friday night.
For the first time all season, the Kraken have dropped three straight losses in regulation. They kept the home crowd quiet with a 1-0 lead in the first period but surrendered the game to a pair of Capitals goals in the second period, including an eventual game winner on the power play to former Kraken forward Marcus Johansson.
“Biggest problem was in the second period,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “We couldn’t find our legs; we couldn’t find any momentum.”
That power play happened as a result of Jamie Oleksiak’s five-minute penalty for a check to the head on Alexander Alexeyev. Oleksiak was ejected and faces a hearing by the NHL Department of Player Safety to determine further discipline.
Adam Larsson’s seeing-eye shot through traffic, off a face-off win, with 2:09 left in the first period was the only goal that got past Lindgren. Philipp Grubauer took the loss but was hardly the reason for defeat, turning in 34 saves while constantly handling the stress of Ovechkin’s line.
Anthony Mantha tied the game at 5:20 of the second period on a bounce at the net. Lars Eller and Ovechkin tacked on two late empty netters to seal it and force the Kraken to respond on Sunday against Florida, who beat the Kraken 5-1 in Seattle on Dec. 3.
“Our group is strong, we remain confident,” said Hakstol.
The Kraken and Capitals finished their two game season series with a split.
1. The Jamie Oleksiak match penalty defined the game. At 9:48 of the second period, Oleksiak caught Capitals defenseman Alexander Alexeyev with a high elbow to the head, in the Kraken defensive zone, leaving Alexeyev crumpled over (he did not return). Oleksiak was given a five-minute major and match penalty, serving an automatic ejection (and suspension to Oleksiak pending review by the league to determine if future discipline is necessary). For starters, it gave a fragile penalty kill an exhaustive five minute workout to keep Alex Ovechkin off the board. He didn’t score but had a hand in Johansson’s go-ahead goal that put the Capitals in the lead for good. Then, the Kraken had to shuffle with just five available defensemen, an exercise that Hakstol shared as routine but also losing Oleksiak’s big 6-foot-7, rangy, shutdown frame for the remainder of the game.
2. Philipp Grubauer showed up and keeps showing out. It’s almost frightening to consider how further Friday night could have gone off the tracks without Grubauer, visibly dialed in early. Ovechkin’s line buzzed the net often. With five minutes to go in the first period, Grubauer turned away Conor Sheary as part of a 12-save frame. Grubauer then turned away a point blank chance on Ovechkin early in the second to keep the Kraken ahead, then another backdoor play as Ovechkin danced to the net in the third period, triggering three saves in close within the “highway robbery” category. Grubauer faced 15 high danger chances. He stopped 13 of them. He has allowed just two goals in three of four games since his return from injury, providing vital signs of stability in net despite a lack of “run support” on Friday.
3. Expect a little more digging in next game. Take a look at the heat map for shot attempts at five-on-five (courtesy Natural Stat Trick). It will tell a pretty direct story. The Capitals, who have been injury riddled with several key players out of the lineup, forged a battle at the net all night long that the Kraken had difficulty winning. Both Washington goals, excluding the empty netters, were scored around five feet or less. They tied the game on a bounce in the crease off Oleksiak. They executed a play to the net that finished with Johansson barely able to flick a wrist shot over Grubauer’s glove (that technically got a piece of his glove). Ovechkin’s line out-chanced the Kraken (in high danger situations), 12-1 at five-on-five. Common sense in road hockey says, “keep it simple.” That includes digging away at the most difficult area to get into and score: front of the net. To see the Kraken respond physically on Sunday would benefit them substantially.
The Kraken will visit the Florida Panthers in game two of the trip on Sunday, 3pm PT (93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network) at FLA Live Arena.
KRAKEN LINEUP VS. WASHINGTON, 12/9: