With their new dog mascot watching from the stands, Kraken forward Ryan Donato and his teammates finally took the leash off their moribund offense in the latter stages of Monday afternoon’s contest to avoid a double-digit losing streak.
For much of this holiday matinee 3-2 shootout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Climate Pledge Arena, it appeared a dog day afternoon was in store for the home side as so many nights before had gone in dropping nine straight and 12 of the past 13. Instead, the Kraken swarmed Blackhawks netminder Marc-Andre Fleury from Donato’s goal to start the third period onward through the 3-on-3 overtime and into the shootout round when they finally got two more pucks past him.
“It’s very relieving,” said Donato, who also scored the first of the shootout goals against Fleury. “I’ve said this to a lot of guys, but I’ve been praying for a win for a long time. And sometimes when things get tough you kind of forget what it feels like to have things happen like that.”
Joonas Donskoi clinched the victory in the shootout by beating Fleury to his glove side, setting off a wild celebration by the Kraken and the announced crowd of 17,151 thrilled to see the losing stretch halted.
The Kraken had been 0-16-1 when trailing after two periods this season. But Donato’s goal off his own rebound on a 2-on-1 break just over two minutes into the third tied it 2-2 and breathed new life into a Kraken squad that hadn’t won in nearly six weeks or registered a home victory in 45 days.
They had several ensuing chances to win it in the dying stages of regulation and then the overtime only to be stymied by Fleury.
But Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer kept them alive long enough to keep trying, thwarting both Chicago shootout tries and seeing Donato put his team ahead in the bonus round with a long, deliberate approach to the net. He feinted right and deked left before slotting the puck home.
“I didn’t want to overthink it on him,” Donato said of his shootout approach to the net. “I just wanted to get him moving and get it up, and I’m lucky that it went in.”
Luck hadn’t been the Kraken’s friend during the losing streak and appeared poised to ignore the 11-23-4 team once more. The first-intermission introduction to the crowd of team dog Davy Jones, an adopted Husky mix, didn’t initially seem like one of those superstitious game-changers that might disrupt a streak of this magnitude.
The Kraken had failed to score more than two goals in 19 of their first 36 games and indeed wouldn’t do that again in regulation this time either. But it looked for a while as if they wouldn’t score at all after Dominik Kubalik put Chicago ahead 1-0 at 12:05 of the middle frame. Erik Gustaffson blocked a pass attempt by Donato, then fed a stretch pass to Kubalik for a breakaway and he beat Grubauer with a snapshot to his blocker side.
In fact, the Kraken had scored just once in their last 140 minutes of play by the time Vince Dunn finally got them on the board with just under five minutes remaining in the middle frame. Dunn’s wristshot from the point deflected off a defender and then ricocheted in off the post behind Fleury to tie it 1-1.
But the Kraken’s celebration was short-lived as Dunn moments later was sent off for tripping and Brandon Hagel scored a go-ahead power play goal with just under three minutes to go before intermission.
The Kraken could have packed it in from there. Instead, they poured it on and wound up outshooting Chicago by a 37-27 margin.
“We earned it today,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “We earned it through the 60 minutes, through overtime and then just found ways to make plays. Both Grubi and the guys in the shootout scoring goals. So, I mean, every aspect of the game I thought we earned the win tonight.”
The Kraken largely shut down the Blackhawks in the opening frame, limiting them to just five shots. But Grubauer had to be on his toes to keep things close in the middle frame when Chicago pumped another 16 his way.
Still, Grubauer appreciated the overall effort. Especially in overtime, when the Kraken controlled the puck throughout.
“It was a 65-minute effort from everybody,” Grubauer said. “We didn’t give them too many odd-man rushes. They had a breakaway or two there, but other than that I really didn’t think they had anything. Our D-zone coverage was phenomenal.”
The Kraken had chances to win it in regulation, as Jared McCann was awarded the first penalty shot in franchise history when tripped on a breakaway with 6:26 to go. But he was stymied for the second time in the period by netminder Fleury.
Donskoi, still seeking his first goal of the season, also nearly won it in the dying seconds when fed a Jordan Eberle pass, but his one-timer was stopped by Fleury.
Dunn nearly won it at the goal mouth as overtime ticked down, then Alex Wennberg’s ensuing shot from the right circle rang off the cross bar as time expired.
“We were getting to the net, trying to screen him and have some traffic in front,” Donskoi said of Fleury. “Obviously, if he sees it he’s probably going to stop it.”
Fleury had all day to see Donskoi’s glove side clincher in the shootout. But the puck still made it past him.
“Usually, I like to try to go around the goalie,” Donskoi said. “But I was watching him, and he was playing pretty deep and I thought that’s probably not going to work. So, I was just trying to get it high and thankfully that worked.”
And Donskoi, shown in video footage on the arena’s dual scoreboards playing with new team dog Davy Jones in the Kraken’s dressing room, wasn’t ruling out a little superstition when asked if some canine luck had bounced their way.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Every team needs a puppy.”
The Kraken just needed a win. And they finally got it.