Matt Boldy earned a natural hat trick, his second in five games, and the Minnesota Wild cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken on Monday night before 19,291 fans at Xcel Energy Center.
“One of those nights where weren’t rewarded for the hard work we did offensively, said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol, whose team outshot Minnesota 36-20.
“We made too many mistakes that wound up in the back of our own net.”
The Kraken finished their four-game road trip at 2-1-1, also taking their first regulation loss on the road in nine games (7-1-1). They struggled to put anything past Marc-Andre Fleury, keeping the Kraken off the board until Jaden Schwartz pierced Minnesota’s 5-0 lead with his 18th goal of the season with nine minutes left in the game.
It was too late to mount anything for a realistic comeback, leaving the Kraken with one win in three tries against a team they could realistically face in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Jacob Middleton and Ryan Hartman scored for Minnesota as well, who chased Philipp Grubauer in the third period with four goals on 13 shots. Martin Jones took over with six saves on seven shots.
Fleury made 35 saves for the win in net.
1. If this Stanley Cup Playoff matchup is coming: The Kraken better be ready to score the first goal, full stop. They beat Minnesota 4-0 in the first matchup, which seems like eons ago back in November when it was Martin Jones in net or bust (Grubauer was on the shelf with an injury), Shane Wright was dipping his toe in the NHL water, and we hadn’t hit Thanksgiving yet. The Wild then only needed one goal to beat the Kraken, several days later behind Fleury’s shutout. Then, Fleury was well on his way again until Jaden Schwartz broke the spell in the third period, but with the game already academic.
Minnesota is primed to get a lead and then strangle the life out of their opponent with an abrasive, smothering, and physical approach. Sometimes, they only need one goal, then go into full boa constrictor mode. It is methodical, gradual, and effective. They will still talk about hanging onto the puck, though the Kraken controlled the shot quality (5-on-5) at a staggering 69 percent. They were in the hunt. But the Wild were all over mistakes and made life generally difficult for the Kraken to find space.
“You don’t have to make a lot of mistakes some nights, but the ones we did – defensively zone coverage for the first goal, they beat us on a seam play on the PK, and the third one, is a seeing eye (goal) through bodies,” said Hakstol.
Come round one, if this is it, the Kraken need a bootstraps-pulled approach.
2. The four-game road trip: mathematically, good enough. So, how important was the Saturday win at Nashville? Turn the result around, and we’re talking about a one-win disaster that dropped the Kraken into uncertainty with the playoff picture. Instead, the Kraken took a body blow of just one regulation loss for the entire trip, gaining five of eight points. While they left Thursday in Nashville less than satisfied with a shootout loss and lack of offense, they made progress. They carry the second easiest strength of schedule in the league. Calgary has the easiest but needs seven points to catch them with just eight games left. Nashville, who has the toughest remaining schedule in the NHL, needs eight points to catch them with ten games remaining.
Hakstol said the Kraken didn’t leave Minnesota feeling satisfied. But the math was good enough for a minimum push.
“You work from game to game,” said Hakstol. “We had good results early in the trip, so you want to come in here and play well and earn points. What’s past is past.”
Nothing is a guarantee in the NHL, but with nine games left, the Kraken hold the cards of control.
3. Do you throw in enough road trip surroundings for a homestand: The road record: 24-10-4. The home record: 16-15-4. If you’re the Kraken, do you find anything to mimic a road lifestyle? Do you reserve a hotel to stay in for home games (this actually happened before with Tampa Bay)? Do you hang white road jerseys in the home dressing room? Do you charter a bus to and from the arena with start and end point in Kraken Community Iceplex?
Now, that’s extreme. But whatever happens, the Kraken need to channel enough road trip energy for home games they need down the stretch. The closest we’ve ever heard about the root of the difference, performances from home to road games, is Carson Soucy explaining an “underdog mentality.” The Kraken will need that frame of mind with five of the next six games on home ice, where an assortment of defensive and third period issues plagued them previously in losses to Ottawa, Dallas and Edmonton.
Up next: Anaheim (Thursday at 7:30pm PT, Kraken Audio Network), who was battered in the last Kraken home win, 5-2 on Mar. 7.
KRAKEN LINEUP AT MINNESOTA, 3/27: