SAN JOSE, Calif. — To hear Kraken goalie Chris Driedger tell it, a little luck can often run a long way.
And for Driedger, whose netminding delivered a key 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks to launch a pivotal two-game trip Tuesday night, nothing was more fortunate than defenseman Adam Larsson being behind him when one of the only shots to beat him all night appeared headed across his goal line. Larsson, stick on the ice, intercepted the second-period shot before it struck pay dirt and kept a scoreless game winnable for a Kraken team that loses a lot when falling behind.
“I mean, that’s the save of the year,” Driedger said after otherwise stopping 33 of 34 shots for only the second Kraken win in six games. “It’s always nice when one gets past you to have your ‘D’ bail you out like that. So, when everyone’s playing well I can hopefully bail the guys out on a couple of plays and they’ll bail me out a couple of times. It’s nice to have each other’s backs like that.”
And the Kraken had their own backs throughout this opener to a key Pacific Division trip that continues Wednesday night in Anaheim. These games carry more weight than prior matchups given the Kraken entered the night firmly ensconced in last place in the division and down 11 points in the Western Conference wild-card hunt.
So, a seizing of the moment was desperately needed. And the Kraken did just that with a two-way performance that, despite the high shot total allowed, virtually eliminated the odd-man rushes against that had so plagued them in recent defeats.
They helped take the smallish-but-initially boisterous SAP Center crowd of 12,403 out of the game by the middle frame. Indeed, the biggest crowd eruption came in the form of audible groans when the video scoreboard showed replays of Larsson making his goal line stand.
Ryan Donato finally snapped a scoreless draw at 6:23 of the final period, redirecting a Joonas Donskoi shot and then driving in hard for the rebound after goaltender James Reimer made the initial stop. Donato whacked away at the loose puck and appeared to bank it in off San Jose defender Radim Simek.
“I think we just played simple,” said Donato, whose sixth Kraken goal equaled his output over 50 games with San Jose last season. “I think we know how good we can play when we just kind of play shutdown and play smart and play patient. I mean, we talked about it as a group. Where we’ve gotten into that second period and it’s a 0-0 game and nobody’s scored and we start taking chances.
“But I think we stuck to our plan and that’s why it worked out for us.”
Brandon Tanev gave the Kraken a two-goal cushion by converting a sharp pass by Morgan Geekie directly in front of the net at 14:19 of the final frame. Driedger, seeing his first action since re-aggravating a prior knee injury 15 days ago, came just 2:07 away from his fifth career shutout before Logan Couture got the home team on the board.
But Calle Jarnkrok added an empty-net goal with 5.8 seconds remaining after the Sharks had lifted Reimer for an extra attacker and poured the shots on Driedger. But as he had all game, Driedger was on top of pucks from the moment they left opponents’ sticks and appeared to be “seeing” them better than he had all season.
“With a new group, you’re going to have to figure out where guys are going to be in the sightlines,” Driedger said. “And I think it’s been a bit of a journey for me. Being out for injuries didn’t help things but it’s nice to be back. I’m feeling good and I’m feeling really confident with our ‘D’ corps in front of me and seeing pucks and knowing where they’re going to be so I can get the sightlines down.”
It helped, of course, that those defenders were eliminating screens as best they could, by clearing the front of the net and simply getting out of the way at times. They also cleared away rebounds, something Driedger allowed fewer of than in past contests.
And, those defenders sometimes played goalie as well. Not just with Larsson’s efforts, but defenseman Jamie Oleksiak also clearing a would-be goal out of his crease only minutes earlier.
Larsson downplayed his role.
“I don’t know if I could say I was anticipating it,” Larsson said of the incoming puck, chuckling a bit as Driedger approached and stood next to him. “I was just trying to get some kind of block in there and I was lucky it hit my stick.
“Obviously, I saved Driedger there,” he said, bursting out laughing. “That’s my guy.”
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol appreciated the “really sound 60-minute hockey game” from his group after saying pregame they must start collecting points in these divisional battles if wanting to get back close to the playoff hunt again. He said the Sharks excel at getting pucks to the net from the point and battling for rebounds in the crease and felt Driedger was up to the challenge.
“He had some of those situations that he had to battle tonight,” Hakstol said. “I felt like he was pretty calm in net. He wasn’t overactive and he was finding not only the first puck but he was finding the second puck as well. It never hurts when you get a little help from your D-men like he did from Larsson in that second period.”
The Kraken haven’t had a whole lot of luck like that this season. And once Larsson delivered some, Driedger and company made sure not to waste it.
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