DENVER — Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer spent the vast majority of this game turning back the clock from a difficult season, as did his hard-luck teammates in trying to forget the last month-plus and pull off an improbable road victory.
With chants of “Gruuu!” again raining down on him Monday night from the Ball Arena fans he’d won for so often in previous seasons, the prospect of victory grew stronger as goals from Marcus Johansson, Jared McCann and Colin Blackwell bolstered the Kraken’s cause. Alas, some unfortunate habits from earlier games started creeping back in on his team and, coupled with a controversial goal off a skate, resulted in a 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on a night Grubauer and the Kraken likely deserved better.
“Sometimes you play good and you don’t come away with the win,” Grubauer said afterward as the Kraken digested a ninth defeat in 10 games. “And sometimes you may not play the best game but you find a way to win games.”
Coming off a nine-day layoff caused by COVID-19 rescheduling, the Kraken looked every bit like a new team determined to start fresh after a training-camp like environment of practices last week. Blackwell’s tally on a deflection of Jamie Oleksiak’s shot from the right point put the Kraken ahead 3-1 with under six minutes remaining in the second period and all seemed grand so long as they made it to intermission with the multi-goal advantage.
It didn’t happen. The old Kraken bugaboo of allowing a goal soon after scoring one reared its ugly head again just 2:40 later as Grubauer made a couple of stops only to have the puck deflect in off defenseman Carson Soucy’s skate.
The goal was credited to Nicolas Aube-Kubel, his second of the contest, and breathed new life into the Avalanche in the final period. The Kraken still pushed back enough to carry the one-goal lead into the final 10 minutes before yet another puck went in off a skate — this time belonging to Devon Toews of the Avalanche.
The Kraken challenged that Toews had redirected the puck intentionally as it bounded to the front of the net on a shot off the end boards. But the goal was upheld upon review, leading to the winning marker with 5:43 to go on another of those odd-man rushes the Kraken often live to regret, with Nazem Kadri beating Grubauer with a laser, top-shelf shot to his short side.
Calle Jarnkrok had a chance to tie it on a one-timed, point-blank chance in the game’s dying seconds but failed to convert.
“I think there are a lot of positives out of that game even though we didn’t win and we didn’t get the points,” Grubauer said.
The power play and penalty killing was excellent. Johansson’s tying power play goal in the first period after Aube-Kubel opened the scoring came as a result of the Kraken moving the puck around well. McCann threw a cross-ice pass to Jordan Eberle in the left circle, and his ensuing shot was redirected home.
That goal changed the game’s momentum decisively in the Kraken’s favor. And the Kraken seemed off to the races when McCann scored on a bad-angled shot from the far left corner early in the second period to put his team in front 2-1.
Grubauer was looking more confident with each incoming shot, making superior kick and blocker saves that had the crowd chanting his name like old times.
“I wasn’t sure if they were ‘boos’ or ‘Gruus’ coming back here,” quipped Grubauer, who played several strong seasons in Colorado before the Kraken signed him as a free agent last summer. “But if it was a ‘Gruuu!’ I definitely appreciate that. I mean, I don’t even know what to say about it in Seattle. But coming here, I don’t even play here any more.”
Of the four goals allowed by Grubauer, two were on odd-man rushes and two were off skates.
“I think we left them off the hook a little bit,” Grubauer said. “In the third period, they really kept pushing. They’re a really good team at home. They’ve done it enough times. I’ve been at the other end where we’ve come out in the third period and just crushed other teams.”
Nobody crushed the Kraken this time. But the result was still tough to swallow.
“Honestly, I felt like we controlled most of the game,” said McCann, whose line with Eberle and Johansson replacing the injured Jaden Schwartz was the Kraken’s most effective. “We had some good D-zone shifts there, obviously, they’ve got that high-powered offense. We kept them in check for the first couple of periods. But that doesn’t mean anything unless you get the wins.”
Indeed, it was a point repeatedly emphasized postgame. That moral victories mean little in professional sports, especially for a 10-20-4 team expected to be closer to .500 than this.
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol talked afterward about balance in his messaging going forward; not overlooking the positives of a relatively strong performance but reminding of the negatives that keep cropping up.
The odd-man rushes on Colorado’s opening and especially closing goals were part of it. So was a tendency to take the foot off the offensive pedal a bit in stages.
“Against a team like this, you have to be diligent in being above and not giving up those outnumbered situations,” he said. “It happened sporadically throughout this game.”
Still, those will happen against a team as good as the Avalanche. For most of this game, the Kraken did, in fact, play well enough to win. Until they didn’t.
“It’s about winning the hockey game,” Hakstol said. “And we were in a position to do that. We obviously did a lot of real positive things to put ourselves in that position. We’ll obviously address those … but there are two or three things we have to address that cost us this hockey game.”