SAINT PAUL, Minnesota — Sure, it was tempting midway through the opening period of this one to think Karson Kuhlman and his Kraken teammates might seek a playoff spot by virtue of late fan write-in ballot.
After all, they’d played winning hockey for six weeks, beaten the NHL-leading Colorado Avalanche and were taking it to the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild early in Friday night’s game, with Kuhlman’s tic-tac-toe passing on a Yanni Gourde goal putting them up by two. But then the Kraken, perhaps catching a breather on the back of their recent laurels, forgot what had gotten them there and were promptly throttled 6-3 in a loss about as ugly as any they’ve had in months.
“I think there was a juncture in the second where we kind of got away from our game,” Kuhlman said after his team was blitzed for five goals in the middle frame. “It’s 100 percent on us.”
Coach Dave Hakstol would later suggest his team had played “shinny” hockey, a 19th century term used as a substitute for “pond hockey” or “street hockey” where rules and structure are sparse. It’s definitely not a word tossed around the NHL for compliments, though tossing stuff around — namely, the puck — in too casual a manner was certainly something Hakstol’s team did in getting thoroughly dismantled.
Joel Eriksson Ek would score a pair of goals for the Wild to tie the game up 2-2 by the 2:02 mark of the second period, while Kirill Kaprizov scored another and added three assists to become the first Wild player to notch 100 points in a season. By the second period’s end, Kevin Fiala would set the Wild’s single-game record with five assists.
The Wild scored three power-play goals their first three chances, Eriksson Ek notching the first of those with just under four minutes to play in the first period. It would prove a momentum-turner for the Wild, helping blunt an early goal by Daniel Sprong and the other by Gourde that gave the Kraken a 2-0 lead midway through the frame.
Matty Beniers scored the final Kraken goal on a power play on his own five minutes into the final period. It was the third goal and fifth point in five NHL games for Beniers since joining the Kraken last week but too little, too late.
Kuhlman didn’t want to blame the penalties for turning the game, especially as the Kraken just missed regaining a 3-2 lead when Jamie Oleksiak hit the cross bar behind goalie Marc-Andre Fleury right after Minnesota tied it up. But Kuhlman is one of the Kraken’s best penalty killers and knows giving the Wild’s explosive offense continuous man advantages in a close game wasn’t going to help silence the revved-up Xcel Energy Center crowd of 19,047 fans.
“I think they’ve obviously got some really skilled players,” Kuhlman said. “Some guys that move all over the ice and are very stationary. So, it makes it harder as a (penalty) kill to find your guy.”
Just under five minutes after the tying goal, Kaprizov redirected a Fiala shot from the right point on the power play to give the Wild their first lead. And the Wild weren’t done, soon scoring three more goals in just under four minutes.
Ryan Hartman got in down low and beat Grubauer with a wrist shot he probably should have stopped. With the Wild on yet another power play, Mats Zuccarello sneaked a shot past Grubauer he definitely should have had.
About 2 1/2 minutes after that, the Kraken left a bunch of players alone in front of Grubauer to swat away at a rebound and it would finally be Nicolas Deslauriers banging it in for the fifth Minnesota goal that frame and a 6-2 lead.
“I mean, they were a good team, but I think a lot of their offensive stuff we kind of gave it to them,” Beniers said. “When you play a good team like that, they’re going to bury it and make you pay for it. So, that was I think, a lot of the night.”
Beniers summed up the giveaway as “turnovers and not playing simple” — words that fit the “shinny” descriptor used by Hakstol. The Kraken did tighten up in the third, getting the period’s only goal when Beniers picked the corner on Fleury to become the first rookie for an expansion team since Wayne Gretzky and Edmonton Oilers linemate Brett Callighen to record five points in his first five NHL games.
Gretzky and Callighen recorded points their first six games in 1979-80, with the huge caveat that those Oilers weren’t a true expansion team and neither player was even a major professional rookie. Both had played with the Oilers in the World Hockey Association — Gretzky for one season, Callighen for three — and came over to the NHL when the Oilers, Quebec, Winnipeg and Hartford teams from that disbanded circuit merged into the NHL.
In any event, that only heightens what Beniers has done. And there weren’t many other highlights for his coach to talk about once the final horn sounded.
Hakstol was most upset with specific turnovers that led to the Wild power plays and directly to a couple of goals against. And for the Kraken, as good as they’ve played, they aren’t good enough to take even five minutes off, let alone a full period.
“We’ve played really good hockey over the last stretch here,” Hakstol said. “I mean, in the second period they (Minnesota) were a team that was playing for a playoff position and seeding and they played for real. And we played 20 minutes of shinny hockey. That’s the bottom line.”
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