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Sports >  NHL

Kraken’s scoring problems continue in loss to Devils

Feb. 9, 2023 Updated Thu., Feb. 9, 2023 at 8:25 p.m.

Geoff Baker Seattle Times

NEWARK, N.J. — By the time Oliver Bjorkstrand flipped the puck off the cross bar in the second period with an open net staring him in the face, it was easy to start believing his Kraken team might never score again.

Even when Adam Larsson finally did halt a Kraken scoring drought of nearly five periods with just under six minutes to go in Thursday’s middle frame, it was clear that defense and goaltending was again going to key any chance at victory. But with the defense and Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer at their even-strength finest throughout, the inability to convert more chances loomed huge in a 3-1 loss after a pair of deflected power play goals by New Jersey Devils star defenseman Dougie Hamilton. 

“There were two deflections there that could have bounced the other way, so if we stick to our system then I think we’re going to be fine,” Grubauer said of Hamilton’s one-timed slappers on a night the Kraken did not allow an even strength goal. “Just a couple of unfortunate bounces. We’d killed off a big chunk over the last couple of games.”

The Kraken had actually killed off 18 straight power play chances their last eight games before Hamilton and redirected pucks entered the picture.

Hamilton’s second of the night, from the point with Yanni Gourde in the box midway through the third period that proved the difference. The puck deflected off Brandon Tanev at the last instant before heading by Grubauer into the net.

Earlier on, Hamilton had tied the game just 24 seconds after Larsson’s goal had given the Kraken a 1-0 lead. 

And while the Kraken continuously buzzed around Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, including a third period look from the slot by Jared McCann immediately after falling behind, they kept failing to convert.

John Marino would finally close out the scoring on an empty net with Grubauer pulled for an extra attacker and the Kraken desperately trying to even the score.

The Kraken (29-17-5) have scored just 20 goals their last nine contests after sweeping a seven-game road trip last month. They’ve gone 3-5-1 that stretch and are now in a three-way tie for second place in the Pacific Division with Edmonton and Los Angeles.

The Kraken’s offensive challenges grew even tougher earlier in the day when the team announced that points leader Andre Burakovsky would be sidelined for at least a “week-to-week” basis and possibly longer with a lower body injury. “Obviously, it sucks,” Grubauer said. “He’s an important player and we need him. But it gives an opportunity for other guys to step up and fill in that role.”

Ryan Donato is one of those stepping up and he nearly helped open the scoring early with a perfect goalmouth pass that Jaden Schwartz couldn’t convert into an empty left side. While the Kraken were stymied offensively throughout the frame, their defense limited one of the league’s most explosive young teams to only two shots the first 15 minutes of play.

It was in stark contrast to how the Kraken had allowed the New York Islanders to freewheel throughout a loss two nights prior.

“We came out way different than last game,” said Grubauer, who stopped 24 of 26 shots on the night. “Obviously, for me personally after eight or nine days off it’s a little more challenging to keep up with the play. But I settled in and we just did an unbelievable job keeping shots to the outside in the first period.”

When the Devils finally did make a push at period’s end, Grubauer was sharp as ever — stopping Hamilton from the high slot and then getting in front of a point-blank rebound chance to keep things scoreless.

By the time Larsson floated home his 56-foot wrister from the right point to beat Blackwood through a screen, Grubauer was playing some of his best hockey this season. It was the latest in a string of top performances by Grubauer, who was injured early and subsequently saw Martin Jones assume the bulk of goalie duties.

“It helps when you make the important saves for sure,” Grubauer said. “But it’s game-by-game. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low.”

Grubauer has allowed two goals or fewer his last four outings and three or fewer his last nine, but the wins haven’t come due to a lack of offensive support. Right after Bjorkstrand hit the crossbar, the Kraken had a prolonged 5-on-3 power play they couldn’t take advantage of.

Even when Larsson finally gave Grubauer the second period lead, Will Borgen was penalized for cross-checking just 17 seconds later and Hamilton’s tying goal came only seven more seconds after that.

“He has a hell of a shot,” Kraken center Alex Wennberg said. “Obviously, we tried to block it and we didn’t really have the bounce. It happens in the game but we need to find those blocks and help him (Grubauer) out.”

Wennberg had drawn an assist on Larsson’s goal after winning a faceoff and going to the net. He said his team has created enough chances.

“Sometimes you’re doing a lot of good things and not getting rewarded,” he said. “But you can’t look at it and be ‘Oh, we don’t have luck.’ You earn luck. So, right now we’ve just got to keep doing the right things, keep shooting the puck and eventually it’s going to come.”

Kraken coach Dave Hakstol agreed the team overall played a lot better here than against the Islanders. He liked how his players went to the net, generated traffic and hunted for rebounds.”

“We had good looks tonight,” Hakstol said. “I felt both goaltenders were good, especially in the first half of this hockey game. We had good opportunities on the 5-on-3 power play. So, I don’t want to get too frustrated over that. We’ve got to continue generating those opportunities and capitalize on them.”

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