Ilya Samsonov got a rebound night with a 16 save effort, buoyed by a stifling game from the Toronto Maple Leafs to defeat the Seattle Kraken, 3-1 on Sunday nigh at Climate Pledge Arena.
Perhaps the Kraken left a lot on the table with just 17 shots on net, facing a goaltender with the league's worst save percentage, clocking in under .840, since the start of December. But the Maple Leafs, finishing back to back games and three games in four nights, earned the respect of the Kraken for a simple approach.
"Our biggest challenge first couple of periods was getting through the neutral zone and getting pucks in behind," said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol. "When we did that, we got some zone time and got some miles on them. Third period, looking for one, our best opportunity was Schultzy on the back side. Great opportunity, their guy made a good save."
Protecting the inside, something Jordan Eberle pointed out, made every scoring chance even more valuable. Samsonov's signature save, as hinted by Hakstol, was a backdoor stop on a Justin Schultz one-timer, wide open, late in the third period.
"We still found a way to generate a little bit and we had our chances to tie that game up," said Eberle. "It's been tough on this group. We just have to find a way."
"It all stops with the bleeding and getting one."
The Kraken certainly need one, as in a win, to stop a U-turn in fortunes that have gone completely the wrong way after ripping off a franchise record nine straight wins. They surrendered the first goal of the game for the fourth time in the last five games, an Auston Matthews Harlem Globetrottersesque maneuverer between the legs at the front of the net, shifting the puck to his backhand and sneaking his NHL leading 38th goal of the season through an opening on the glove side of Joey Daccord that was no more than roughly five inches wide.
On the heels of a squandered power play early in the game, the Kraken were down 1-0 just 7:06 into the first period, and were unable to recover.
"They did a good job making us chip pucks in, and they broke out," said Eberle.
"They know how to close out games. Coming off a back to back, they're not feeling their legs, they're simplifying their game. That's what happens."
Nicholas Robertson responded from a Kraken penalty kill to one-time a feed from Max Domi past Daccord's glove side for a 2-0 lead at 2:51, putting the Kraken in grave danger. Yet, Eberle was able to jam a loose puck past Samsonov with 5:57 to play, and Oliver Bjorkstrand hit a post, next shift, on a breakaway.
The Kraken though short-circuited for the first 12 minutes of the third period, playing without Vince Dunn and Matty Beniers, and were unable to force a shot on net and go without a high-grade look until Schultz's miss.
Jake McCabe closed the game on an empty netter from nearly 200 feet with 21 seconds left.
Joey Daccord made 23 saves in the loss.
ONE BIG TAKEAWAY:
The odds as a baseline are stacked against a ton of teams in the NHL playing against the Leafs, who don't rely on depth, but star power (Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander combined for a whopping 59 percent of their offense, heading into Sunday).
The situation was dire and aside from Jared McCann's line, everything went into a blender for much of the game with Beniers and Gourde out of commission. Alex Wennberg's line was a frequent matchup against Matthews' line, and Hakstol at one point deployed three veteran wingers - Andre Burakovsky, Jaden Schwartz, and Oliver Bjorkstrand - together. But an on-the-fly maneuver tested the limits of the Kraken on Sunday, who missed a golden opportunity to test the shaky Samsonov, who only faced eight shots by the ten minute mark of the second period, and 17 in total.
The Kraken got a reprieve with a light NHL schedule on Sunday, and didn't lose any ground in the wild card chase. But a loss against a Leafs team that was entering Sunday on fumes magnifies the importance of the next four games, against teams out of the playoffs (Chicago, St. Louis, Columbus, and San Jose) where the Kraken need points by the boatload to keep their stance firm in the playoff race.