PITTSBURGH – Heading into PPG Arena as the NHL’s worst road team was a surefire sign the Kraken needed to up their game to avoid another predictable result.
Slow starts have plagued the Kraken all season and repeating that Thursday night against the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins wouldn’t do them any favors.
So, instead, the Kraken came out strongly in a highly competitive 2-1 overtime win, sapped some crowd energy, held off a midgame Penguins pushback and finally put the puck in Pittsburgh’s net late.
Jared McCann scored his team-leading 17th goal of the season against his former club, redirecting a Vince Dunn shot from the right point to tie it 1-1 with 3:56 to go in regulation time. Adam Larsson scored 1:17 seconds into the sudden-death session to give the Kraken their first overtime victory this season.
Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer had battled Penguins counterpart Tristan Jarry to a scoreless duel through nearly 2½ periods. It looked as if the Kraken might break the scoring ice when Marcus Johansson was sent in alone 7 minutes into the final period, got a shot off but had his feet taken out from under him by a sliding Jarry as he charged in for the rebound.
The play was whistled dead and Johansson called for goaltender interference.
On the ensuing power play, Evgeni Malkin got a wrist shot off through traffic that beat Grubauer for the game’s first goal at the 8:23 mark.
Earlier in the period, a Kraken power play saw Dunn get a wrist shot off from the point that beat Jarry cleanly but rattled off the post.
The Penguins, who’d entered with eight consecutive wins at their arena, typically thrive off their home crowd and have been known to pile on teams early when they show up with less than their finest effort. Meanwhile, the Kraken, sporting an NHL-worst 4-11-2 road mark and having dropped four straight away from Climate Pledge Arena meant this would be a test for a team looking to build off the positives of a recent 3-3 homestand.
It had been six weeks since the Kraken last won a road game, doing so Dec. 14 in San Jose. Along the way, all hopes for a playoff spot also disappeared though there is still plenty for the team to nail down as its inaugural season progresses.
One of those areas will be learning to win in what coach Dave Hakstol labels as “tough buildings to play in” – places his team will see frequently the next few weeks. Hakstol qualified that by stating the Penguins, with their Stanley Cup championship core from last decade still much intact, are a team that feeds off early momentum if given a chance.
So, the Kraken didn’t let them. The Pens had few quality chances the opening frame, even when given an early power play courtesy of a Karson Kuhlman trip. The Kraken did what they needed to while short-handed, including Haydn Fleury getting in front of a one-timed slap shot attempt by Sidney Crosby that would have been dangerous had it gotten through.
The Kraken had several chances to score, with Joonas Donskoi just missing a conversion in front of the net in the early going. Later in the first, Yanni Gourde and Mason Appleton broke in 2-on-1 but Tristan Jarry – who missed the first game between these teams last month – easily stopped Gourde’s shot.
Pittsburgh held the Kraken to just two shots in the middle frame, but Alex Wennberg had a golden opportunity all alone on the left side. Wennberg’s shot missed the net high and wide.
Still, it was the Pens dominating the period with a 9-2 edge in shots – three of them coming on one late spurt in which they kept the puck in the Kraken’s zone for a full minute and a half. Johansson broke his stick getting in front of a shot, so the Penguins enjoyed the equivalent of a man advantage for a full minute with the Kraken unable to dump the puck out.
Johansson skated around like a wild man doing what he could and then finally blocked a pass attempt and the Kraken got possession long enough to get tired bodies off the ice. Grubauer stood tall throughout that sequence, kicking out a Kasperi Kapanen blast from the right circle.
He also made another kick save in the dying seconds of the period to keep the game scoreless heading to the second intermission.
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