By Morris Phillips
SEATTLE–In the NHL, physical confrontations win games. They create lingering animosity, spark rivalries and snap losing spells too.
Mark Giordano knows better than anyone. The 38-year old played 949 games in a Flames sweater, followed by a mere 33 games with expansion Seattle, but enough hockey to provide him the savvy to sense an opening by dropping the gloves with 20-year old Adam Raska of the Sharks.
Giordano’s instincts, and fists highlighted his well-rounded evening on the ice as the Kraken rallied to defeat the Sharks 3-2 in San Jose’s first NHL visit to Seattle.
The Sharks failed to leapfrog the Kings and Ducks in tightly-bunched Pacific Division standings while the Kraken won in regulation for the first time in a month ruptured by a pair of COVID interruptions that forced the team into seven game cancelations.
“The consistency in our game wasn’t there early,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “I give our guys credit for stepping up in the second and third period and finding a way to get it done.”
The Sharks needed just 38 seconds to introduce themselves to the Climate Pledge Arena crowd with Tomas Hertl’s goal assisted by Alexander Barabanov. The goal was Hertl’s team-leading 21st, and Barabanov contributed on his first shift after missing three games due to COVID protocols.
The first period was an illustration of the host’s struggles, which saw them drop nine straight before beating the Blackhawks on Monday. Talented and experienced in the realm of league expansion teams, the Kraken have seen their developing chemistry suffer under the weight of the two, inactive periods due to the virus. In the first 24 minutes Thursday, the Kraken gave the puck away five times and afforded the Sharks precious, additional scoring opportunities.
But all that disjointed play ended when Mason Appleton maintained control despite taking a big hit against the wall, then shuttled the puck to an open Carson Soucy, who delivered the Kraken’s first goal from inside the face-off circle.
Soucy’s goal enlivened the crowd, and a subsequent goal that was waved off for offsides upon video review, didn’t see that momentum to dissipate. Again Soucy stepped up, battling his way through traffic for a second goal four minutes after the first, putting the Kraken up, 2-1.
Two penalties against the Sharks followed that for seven seconds gave Seattle a 5 on 3 advantage. Both were killed, but San Jose’s biggest threats, Timo Meier and Hertl missed ice time as the penalty killers worked. The momentum swung to the Kraken and their crowd.
“After the first, we stopped playing,” Hertl said. “They were all over us, they managed the game better and we couldn’t find a way. It’s a tough loss because everybody knows what is coming–the last five games before the break.”
Giordano was already having a big night with an assist and some gritty defensive stops. When Raska drew a cross checking penalty from Soucy, the 6’1″ Giordano got in Raska’s face accusing him of being a bit of an actor. The gloves dropped, the punches flew and the crowd howled. Both players were assessed fighting majors.
For Raska, in just his fourth NHL game, it was a lesson that left him overwhelmed. For Giordano, experiencing his first fighting major in three years was a cerebral act and in some ways a game decider.
Philipp Grubauer, the Kraken’s goaltender countered a very disappointing month with a pair of saves on Hertl, one each on Brett Burns and Barbarov, as well as corraling Meier’s breakaway opportunity earlier in the period. He finished with 22 saves.
The Sharks had chances. Along with the giveaways they were afforded, they went 1 of 6 on the power play, and saw Seattle’s Riley Sheahan win 12 of his 17 faceoffs, most of those in special team situations.
Calle Jarnkrok put the Kraken up 3-1 in the third with Giordano picking up his second assist.
The Kraken’s pair of wins in their first two encounters with San Jose puts them in the company of the 1998 Predators and 2017 Golden Knights as the only expansion teams to defeat the Sharks consecutively.
Meier kept up his torrid goal scoring streak by cashing in a power play opportunity in the third that trimmed the Sharks deficit to 3-2. Despite another power play opportunity in the game’s final two minutes, the Sharks were denied.
Adin Hill had 16 saves for the Sharks as he got the starting assignment in place of James Reimer. Hill avoided disaster in the third period when he found himself out of the crease with the Kraken on the attack, but he gave his team a chance. Still, the loss was Hill’s 12th, the most he’s had in any of his five NHL seasons.
The Sharks next skate on Saturday at home in a difficult match-up with Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are atop the Atlantic Division along with the Florida Panthers.
SHARKS’ GOAL SCORING CONUNDRUM: The Sharks aren’t particularly adept at scoring goals, ranking 22nd in the NHL with 2.76 goals per game. However, Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl are tied for seventh in individual goal scoring with 21 each. The issue? What if either misses extended time in the season’s second half, which for the Sharks, begins on Saturday with a home date with the Lightning? The burden for goal scoring falls upon Logan Couture and Brent Burns, and neither is suited to be a front line sniper.
Could the team be in the market for another goal scorer in the trade market? Most likely, yes.