The Seattle Kraken found the first period start a little hard to come by again.
The Carolina Hurricanes, creating a flurry with a two-goal lead in the opening 20 minutes and eventually, three unanswered goals, held off the Kraken 3-2 in the road trip finale before a crowd of 18,680 at PNC Arena on Thursday.
Swept in their two game season series, the Kraken surrendered two first period goals to Andrei Svechnikov and Derek Stepan, before Stefan Noesen’s second period penalty shot goal was enough to set roots for the eventual outcome.
“Their five man pressure is outstanding and they were on it the majority of the game,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol.
“We got caught with a couple of soft puck plays, a little bit slow in a couple of decisions, and that’s what that pressure can do to you.”
Defying resignation of the final score, the Kraken staged impressive perseverance and knocked the deficit down to one goal, buoyed by a phenomenal effort by Philipp Grubauer in net. Grubauer made 37 saves, a season high. He wasn’t even supposed to play in the game, supplanting previously anointed starter Martin Jones after Hakstol said “something developed” which prompted the sudden change, hours before puck drop.
“He was good, be battled hard and gave us a chance to stay within striking distance in this game,” said Hakstol.
“Grubie was great tonight, he made some big saves from start to finish,” said Daniel Sprong, who scored in the third period. “We’ve got to do a better job in front of him, not giving up those grade-A’s too often.”
Ryan Donato ended a shutout streak of 151:26 for Carolina’s Pyotr Kochetkov on a screen at the net with 8:34 left in the second period, despite a power play that came up empty at 0-of-2.
“It’s not clicking,” said Sprong, a key part of the special team’s second unit. “We’re getting looks, we’re just not bearing down. We just have to be better.”
The Kraken will come home Sunday, hosting the Winnipeg Jets at 5pm PT (93.3 KJR / Kraken Audio Network).
1. PHILIPP GRUBAUER, PATS ON THE BACK. He was spectacular. Full stop. Grubauer wasn’t even supposed to start on Thursday night, a move that Hakstol spared details on except for the sudden change with Jones’ status after morning skate. All we knew was Grubauer left PNC Arena after morning skate prepared to be that night’s bench doorman and was thrust into action at the drop of a hat, against one of the league’s most piercing teams. He was brilliant, with a season high 37 saves. Though two goals got by him in the first period on clean looks, his overall performance - which included a sweltering 18 high danger chances against (one shy of the Capitals loss last Friday) - was as close as it comes to a video game cheat code. His big save on Jordan Martinook, shorthanded, late in the second period served as a swing point for the Kraken, who nearly dug out of the three-goal deficit but ran out of time.
2. THE NEED FOR A FAST START, AGAIN, REARED ITS HEAD. Unfortunately for the Kraken, similar habits out of the gate translated into ultimate doom for the end of the road trip. Managing the speed of the Hurricanes with efficient play up ice was a must-have for success, which didn’t happen early, with a packed building that got rocking when the Hurricanes went up 2-0 in the first period. Yanni Gourde’s defensive zone turnover turned into a 1-0 deficit. Derek Stepan, who waited 27 games to pot his first goal, finished a Hurricanes burst through the neutral zone for a 2-0 game. The Kraken were left chasing for the rest of the night. If there’s one answer to get back on the winning track, it comes from the form of an early lead. In the last five losses, they have been outscored 7-3. Three times, they have fallen behind 2-0 in the first period.
3. QUENCH THAT THIRST SOON, POWER PLAY UNIT. The offensive side of special teams came up empty on two chances to swing momentum at critical times: a late first period tripping penalty to Stefan Noesen, and (admittedly) a questionable late second period high sticking penalty to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, which would have put the Hurricanes into a flurry of doubt if the Kraken could get to within one goal before the horn – especially after Kochetkov was invincible for over 150 consecutive minutes. Both power play chances came up empty, and the drought has grown to a 1-of-18 stretch in the course of the last six games. That unit has been critical for success and is begging for more production akin to the previous six game win streak, when they went 8-of-20 (40%).
KRAKEN LINEUP, DEC. 15 AT CAROLINA: