Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer stared ominously at his bench awaiting the inevitable hook barely five minutes into this Monday nightmare.
Grubauer’s improved play was a big reason for his team’s resurgence of recent weeks, but four shots into this 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and he was already down three goals. The Kraken, wanting to shake things up team-wise as much as between the posts, quickly replaced Grubauer with backup Joey Daccord.
“You give up three early in your building, that can’t happen,” Jordan Eberle, author of the Kraken’s only goal of the night, said of the early deficit. “You give up home ice advantage the opposite way. I’d like to say we need to learn from that, but it just can’t happen.”
For a while, after Eberle’s goal on a nice give-and-go with Alex Wennberg early in the second period, it looked as if the home team might come back in front of 17,151 initially stunned fans at Climate Pledge Arena.
But with the Kraken trailing by just two with under two minutes to play in the middle frame, Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith made the type of huge stop Grubauer couldn’t earlier on. DeSmith got his stick on a cross-ice pass from Morgan Geekie to Jared McCann that would have been a certain goal into an open left side of the net had it gotten through.
Instead, DeSmith made the deflection, the Pens came back down the ice and goals by Jake Guentzel and Jeff Carter — his second of the game — just 23 seconds apart sealed this one before the second period was done.
Guentzel added his second of the game in the final period as the Kraken, now 9-14-2, took just their second regulation loss — third overall — in an eight-game span. They saw their modest three-game home winning streak end.
“We found one in the second period and had a chance to make it 3-2,” Eberle said. “But then we get sloppy on a couple of breakdowns and then they go down 2-on-1, and we hang our goalie out to dry and the game’s over.”
Slow starts had been an issue for the Kraken the first month-plus of the season but appeared to be a thing of the past on the recent winning stretch. Alas, Grubauer was far from the only culprit in the early going of this one as the Kraken tossed the puck around like a live grenade in their own zone. A series of turnovers, the final one by Jeremy Lauzon, led to Carter banking one in off Grubauer’s stick as the goalie tried a failed poke check just 1:47 into the game.
Fewer than three minutes later, the Kraken lost a faceoff in their own zone and the puck came in from the point where Sidney Crosby tapped it home from the lip of the crease with defenseman Jamie Oleksiak standing right there. Then, just 25 seconds after that, it was Danton Heinen putting a puck by Grubauer from 40 feet away with a wrist shot that deflected off Riley Sheahan’s skate.
Eberle couldn’t really explain the early faceplant nor could Kraken coach Dave Hakstol. But just like his top goal scorer, Hakstol said the start was unacceptable.
“I won’t even speak to one individual performance,” Hakstol said of the early Grubauer hook. “I mean, that’s indicative of the start of our team. We gave up three goals on the first four or five shots on goal, and we weren’t sharp to start the hockey game.”
Hakstol plans to address some of the individual breakdowns with players at practice Tuesday morning.
“It’s disappointing to come off arguably our most complete performance a couple of nights ago,” he said of a win over Edmonton. “It’s disappointing to come out with that type of a start tonight.”
Hakstol was pleased Daccord at least gave the Kraken a chance to get back in it, making a great kick save off Carter from point-blank range with just more than five minutes to go in the opening period. The Penguins mustered just one more shot the final 13 minutes of the period as the Kraken scrambled to get back in it.
Then, after Eberle’s goal just 3:43 into the second, started with a fine pass on one knee from Jaden Schwartz, Daccord kept the Kraken within two by stopping Teddy Blueger on a short-handed breakaway minutes later.
But the odd-man rushes continued late in the period, with Carter scoring the fifth Pittsburgh goal on a one-handed, chip shot over Daccord.
“We’ll go to work and we’ll work hard in practice and turn the page by doing it that way,” Hakstol said. “There’s not a whole lot of talk that needs to be done about this. We’ve got to go back to work. There’s nothing hidden about this one.”
Kraken defenseman Oleksiak, one of those on the ice as the Kraken struggled to corral the puck in their own end the opening minutes, said it was “a matter of details” needing to be cleaned up against a strong offensive team.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience,” he said. “I think we’ve been going well. We have to just get back on track with what’s been giving us success. And we’ve just basically got to take it as a learning experience.”