Mitch Marner collected three assists and Auston Matthews scored twice to boost the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 5-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken before 17,151 fans at Climate Pledge Arena on Sunday.
The two teams split the season series, leaving the Kraken with three straight losses which dropped them to the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. They are four points ahead of the Calgary Flames, with one game in hand, and 23 games to go.
“Our energy and the start to the hockey game was good,” said head coach Dave Hakstol. “But we have to have a better response. We’ve got to be stiffer. Tough goal goes in, we’ve got to be stiffer – not just next few shifts, but rest of the period.”
Vince Dunn scored the only goal for the Kraken, just 3:47 into the game, and found the rest of the day difficult to get anything else past Ilya Samsonov, who made 26 saves.
Mark Giordano, returning to Seattle for the first time since he was traded last March, scored on the Leafs first shot, igniting a run of five unanswered goals. In the first period during a timeout, he was saluted with a tribute on the videoboards before the sellout crowd.
“When I saw it up there it was pretty cool,” said Giordano. “They do everything right. It’s nice to see them having success this year.”
Giordano set a new NHL record, though it only started tracking in 2005-06, for most blocked shots in a career when he took a blast off the foot to surpass Kris Russell. He now has blocked 2,046 shots with the Kraken, Flames, and Maple Leafs.
Philipp Grubauer, surrendering four goals on 21 shots he surrendered, took the loss while Martin Jones replaced him after Matthews put the Leafs up 4-1 at 4:13 of the second period.
“Our goalies are actually playing pretty well,” said Dunn. “Unacceptable (from us) for (Grubauer), there’s not much you can do on any of those goals.”
Jones stopped 11 shots in relief.
1. It started off well, and that was it for the Kraken. It seemed as if more of the relentless spirit that permeated the Kraken on Thursday carried over into Sunday, when Vince Dunn rifled his 11th goal of the season past Ilya Samsonov for a 1-0 lead just 3:47 into the game. Then Mark Giordano – Mr. Familiar Face – got the Leafs on the board with their first shot of the game. The Kraken refused to wilt immediately, only stopped by a desperation save from Samsonov on Oliver Bjorkstrand, wide open in the slot, then missing on another great look with Jesper Froden missing over the crossbar on a breakaway. That was all the “get out of jail free cards” the Maple Leafs needed to turn the game in their favor for good, going up 2-1 on the John Tavares rebound and then Timothy Liljegren capitalizing on a defensive breakdown for a two-goal cushion. The Kraken were left to chase the Maple Leafs for the rest of the night, a tough task with the Leafs carrying a 19-4-2 record after one period.
2. Inside the dots: where the battle is won or lost. Time after time in the first period, Philipp Grubauer found himself wading his way through a jungle. This had no trees, no branches, but plenty of twigs and Leafs. The Kraken failed to clear them out, resulting in a high stress first period which set the tone for Toronto, who led in high danger scoring chances, 6-2 (at five-on-five). Ryan O’Reilly caused enough havoc at the front of the net to tie the game. The Kraken failed to clear out John Tavares, who stashed a rebound for a one-goal cushion. More scoring chances followed as a part of a 20-shot onslaught for the Leafs in the first period, who then scored two more at the front of the net for Auston Matthews in the second and third period, respectively. The Kraken will be challenged to respond defensively on Tuesday, keeping life calm at the net for their goatlenders.
3. Are the Kraken feeling tension? Let’s check in with Vince Dunn:
“A lot of us are maybe being a little too hard on ourselves,” said Dunn. “Clinching our stick when we have the puck. The plays are there to be made. We just have to make them.”
It’s understandable. Nobody associates trade deadline time with sunshine and a yellow brick road. Players lives are uprooted, families are forced to relocate, and uncertainty with a roster reigns until the deadline finally hits. The last time they lost at home by a wide margin, Edmonton ran away with a 7-2 rout before New Year’s Day. Following a Jan. 1 win over the New York Islanders, they went on a seven game tear.
Dunn couldn’t identify the root of the cause for tension, whether it might be the uncertainty of the impending trade deadline, a modest three-game losing streak, or just the simple crunch of playoff stretch drive play that’s involved with a Western Conference that’s as tight as a coin slot. The Kraken could use more road magic right now, heading out to St. Louis, Detroit, Columbus, and Colorado where they have the simple day-to-day routine of connecting together among teammates.
KRAKEN LINEUP VS. TORONTO, 2.26: