Kraken forward Yanni Gourde had an empty look in his eyes Wednesday night, his team once again coming up with too little, too late against a beatable opponent that’s started this season as poorly as his squad has.
Gourde finally scored one of two late Kraken goals as the third period wound down, but that wouldn’t be enough pucks put past Chicago Blackhawks netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. Instead, yet another slow start doomed the Kraken in what became a 4-2 loss on a night Fleury looked every bit his Vezina Trophy-winning self in front of 17,151 fans at Climate Pledge Arena.
“We’ve got to find ways to make sure we turn the game before it’s too late,” Gourde said. “There’s a lot of stuff, but we’ve got to try to be more structured. Everybody’s got to be on the same page. If we do that, we’re going to be successful.”
Instead, the Kraken took a fifth straight loss after falling behind by two goals early in the second period and mustering only three shots in the opening frame for a second straight home game.
Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat scored one goal on a breakaway and set up another as the previously reeling Blackhawks captured their fourth in a row. Patrick Kane added another goal for the Blackhawks early in the third period as the Kraken, now 4-11-1, were plagued by yet another slow start from which they couldn’t recover.
Jared McCann finally broke the scoring ice for the Kraken on a goalmouth scramble on the powerplay with just under six minutes to go in the third.
The Kraken pulled goalie Philipp Grubauer for an extra attacker with a little under four minutes to play and Gourde one-timed a slapshot past Fleury with 1:49 to go. But Jake McCabe added an empty net goal for the visitors to seal it with 26 seconds remaining, flipping the puck the length of the ice.
“Honestly, we’ve got to do better at starting on time,” Gourde said. “We can’t be thinking we’re going to get back in games just in the last minute. I thought we looked good on the 6-on-5 (with Grubauer pulled) but we’ve got to start figuring out how to score goals when it’s 5-on-5.”
The Kraken outshot the Blackhawks 33-19 overall.
Slow starts cost the Kraken big in a home loss to Anaheim last Thursday and then another against Minnesota on Sunday. They were outshot 14-4 in the first period by the Ducks and then 6-3 by the Wild and had talked much for much of the week about needing to come out stronger.
But on Wednesday, the Kraken managed just three shots in the opening frame. They also managed zero shots from the period’s halfway mark through to intermission, falling behind 1-0 at 15:03 on a brilliant tic-tac-toe passing play that ended with Seth Jones depositing the puck into an open right side of the net.
Kane got the play started by carrying the puck up ice and into the Kraken’s zone. Kane then hit DeBrincat with a cross ice pass, which the Blackhawks’ forward then one-timed over to Jones for a goal that Kraken netminder Grubauer had zero chance on.
It was the 300th career point for Jones in a period that finished with the Kraken being outshot 8-3.
“Obviously, we need to have better starts,” McCann said afterwards. “We can’t be chasing the game the whole time. For some reason, we just start playing better when we’re behind.”
The Kraken looked like a completely different team in the second period, peppering Fleury with chances and ringing a shot off the goalpost. By period’s end the Kraken had outshot the visitors 15-6 and trailed 2-0 after DeBrincat managed the frame’s only goal by taking a breakaway pass and beating Grubauer short side just 2:01 in.
The fifth goal in six games for DeBrincat seemed to wake the Kraken up and they were all over Fleury from there. Gourde had the best scoring chance of the period, taking a Jordan Eberle pass alone at the lip of the crease and attempting to flip the puck into the net’s vacated right side.
But Fleury, who’s made a living flip-flopping around his net, somehow threw his body to his left and got his glove up high enough to block Gourde’s shot from hitting paydirt.
Gourde tried to ignite his team and the fans in the third period, getting into a spirited fight with DeBrincat in which the two forwards threw a plethora of punches. The sight of Gourde smiling as DeBrincat threw punches without having enough reach to actually land any of them very hard seemed to get the crowd going and was one of the Kraken’s highlights of an otherwise quiet night.
But moments later, Kane made it 3-0, taking a cross-ice pass from Philipp Kurashev in the right faceoff circle and beating Grubauer upstairs with a wristshot.
Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said he didn’t think his team was badly outplayed in the first period, keeping things rather even until the Jones goal on “an elite play” that found its way in. The Kraken did have a handful of close-in chances early but failed to connect.
“They skated better than we did in the first period,” Hakstol said. “Second and third were excellent with tremendous efforts on our part. And when you look at it, that’s likely got to be the push that we need through the three periods to get ourselves headed in the right direction.”