When they weren’t at their best, the Seattle Kraken got a much needed effort from a goaltender who was at his best.
Philipp Grubauer stole the show with a 38 save effort, three off his season high, to give the Kraken at least a chance before falling 3-2 in a shootout to the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday before 14,237 fans at Canada Life Centre on Tuesday night.
“I thought (Grubauer) was really good,” said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol.
“That’s how you earn points on the road – good goaltending, win the specialty teams battle, do the little things. We were able to do that tonight. Grubie’s been a part of that.”
John Hayden and Jared McCann scored back-to-back goals, answering Blake Wheeler’s 26th goal of the season at 7:01 of the second period. Pierre Luc-Dubois tied the game with 10:21 left in regulation on a fluky deflection at the net, and Grubauer came through with several high grade saves before eventually yielding to Dubois’ shootout winner in the third round.
David Rittich made 27 saves for the win in net. The Kraken crept a point closer to the Kings and Golden Knights: two points back of first place Vegas, and one point back of the Kings.
“Good team, lot of respect and ability for the way they played,” said Hakstol. “Disappointed not to get two (points), but a real important road point.”
Winnipeg improved to 20-8 on home ice and moved to within two points of first place Dallas in the Central Division.
1. Thank Philipp Grubauer for this one. Without him, there’s no other way the Kraken get to overtime and creep up the standings by the end of the night. He was under duress for much of the evening and the high danger chances he faced, versus what David Rittich faced, were about double the workload (17-9). Only two goals got past him before the shootout, which we all know can be a toss-up. It’s almost freakish how much Grubauer has to work harder for results, in spite of his 6-9-2 record. Comparing his updated “goal” support versus stall mate Martin Jones (3.8 goals per game, 5th in the NHL), Grubauer is receiving just 2.2 goals per game of support (54th). He delivered a performance screaming of a first star effort, and he got it.
By the way, Grubauer’s save percentage since New Year’s Day, you ask. It’s a whopping .930, seventh best in the NHL (180 minutes or more).
2. Is Jared McCann’s power play goal an example of signs of life?. Since a Jan. 10 win at Buffalo, the power play generally has been lost in the wilderness, with just four power play goals over the last 13 games (covering 36 chances). Jared McCann banked a left board shot off traffic, which produced a brief 2-1 lead on the power play. The Kraken are hoping it demonstrates signs of life on the power play. During this recent stretch, losing Andre Burakovsky hurts. Losing Justin Schultz for a while hurts, though he’s back. The Kraken at one point had Matty Beniers out two games, but he’s been silenced since his return from the questionable hit delivered by Tyler Myers last month. Daniel Sprong was scratched for a more rugged John Hayden (and you have to admit it paid off in some ways, with Hayden scoring a goal by crashing the net). But no Sprong and Burakovsky have deprived the Kraken of two valuable weapons with their marksman-like shot from the circles. They’re looking for different ways to generate offense, and despite the Kraken falling short on a four-minute power play in the period, signs of life were evident.
3. The road trip gave us a taste of the challenges the Kraken will have to endure. The deeper they’re involved in the playoff stretch drive, they will have to contend with games like they faced with the Devils, Flyers, and Jets – close, tight, abrasive, and at times, involving stingy goaltending (like we saw from Mackenzie Blackwood and David Rittich). The Kraken will get a break from playoff contenders with a homestand up with Philadelphia and Detroit before heading to San Jose for 1pm matinee next Monday. That’s followed by a visit (*gulp*) from the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, before going back on the road again for four in a row. The Kraken haven’t won a game scoring five goals or more since demolishing Vancouver 6-1 on Jan. 25 and have only emerged victorious in those games, just once since Jan. 14 (a span covering 11 games). The games evolving with 8-5 type of scores, enabling the habits of “outscoring your mistakes” are becoming few and far between. The Kraken are proven to generate offense with quick striking capability, still lead the NHL with 139 goals at full strength play, and have the second easiest strength of schedule in the league. But goaltending, opportunistic special teams, and an embrace to play tight-checking games - especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs - are more of the norm when the weather gets warm. They’ll be called to adapt to those challenges.
KRAKEN LINEUP AT WINNIPEG, 2/14: