It was the revenge game of all revenge games for Seattle Kraken goalie Chris Driedger Saturday night at FLA Live Arena.
He was facing the Florida Panthers, his former team who oh, by the way, are the top-scoring club in the NHL and had yet to lose at home. At the other end of the rink was Spencer Knight, the 20-year-old, former first-round pick by Florida whose arrival late last year essentially made Driedger expendable.
And it was the second of a back-to-back for the Kraken after losing 3-0 in Tampa Bay on Friday.
None of that mattered Saturday.
After struggling through his first two starts with Seattle, Driedger was on and on early, making 33 saves as the Kraken (7-13-1) denied the Panthers (14-4-3) a chance at setting a record 12th straight home to win to start a season by winning 4-1.
“[Tonight’s win] is about as good as they feel,” Driedger said.
Seattle got two goals from Jordan Eberle who was playing in his 800th career NHL game along with two points from both Jamie Oleksiak and Joonas Donskoi.
“It was a real competitive game for us, a competitive game both ways,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “We went start to finish tonight and we knew we needed to do that in this building against this team that hadn’t lost in this building yet this year. So it was a good 60-minute performance for us.”
Eberle opened the scoring for Seattle in the first period, but the dagger came at 5:57 of the third period when he picked up a rebound off a Yanni Gourde chance and backhanded his second goal of the night to put Seattle up 3-1.
The goal was the insurance score that Seattle needed to put away the Panthers.
“That’s typical Gourdie,” Eberle said. “He’s hard on the puck and doesn’t really give up. He made a great play, just missed the shot and I was there to put in the rebound. That was all him.”
Kraken lean on Driedger
Driedger thwarted a Jonathan Huberdeau short-handed breakaway chance early in the first period which gave a clue that he was dialed in. When Seattle was in the throes of its recent six-game losing streak, those chances seemingly always resulted in goals.
In the second period, the Panthers pushed back, down 2-1. Florida outshot the Kraken 13-7 in the second, took 67 percent of the quality shots, and led in high danger chances 5-2. Despite the tilted ice, Driedger stood tall while hardly looking rattled.
“The first two, or three [starts] you could say didn’t go my way,” Driedger said. “I just needed to go in there and feel good, make some saves and get the confidence back. A lot of buzz coming back into this building. Pretty happy with the performance of our group, that’s about as good as I’ve seen our group play, hat’s off to them.”
If Driedger’s confidence is back, and with the resurgence of Philipp Grubauer over the last three games, the Kraken just might be starting to see the goalie tandem they envisioned when the season began.
Seattle gets off to an early start
The first period has been an adventure for the Kraken, but it’s slowly been getting better and Saturday’s opening period was perhaps the best of the season.
Seattle went to the power play 25 seconds into the game and cashed in at 2:22 to take a 1-0 lead. After Driedger’s big save and with time running out in the power play, Donskoi found some space and drew the penalty killers to him as he deftly sent a cross-ice pass to Eberle who knocked in his 10th goal of the season.
It was the seventh time in the last nine games that the Kraken scored a power-play goal.
Florida tied the game at 6:59 of the first period when a MacKenzie Weeger shot from the point was deflected past Driedger by Patric Hornqvist in front of the net.
Jamie Oleksiak blasted a shot from the point at 10:40 of the first and it was deflected in by Ryan Donato to give the Kraken a 2-1 lead. It was Donato’s third goal of the season.
After Eberle’s third-period goal to give the Kraken a two-goal advantage, Oleksiak would put the final nail in the coffin with his first goal as a Kraken at 16:35 when he scored from deep in his own zone on the empty Florida net.
“We didn’t like the outcome last night, it was a tough outing for us,” Hakstol said. “It didn’t feel good walking away from the rink last night. So, your next opportunity was tonight, and the guys did a real good job in terms of being ready to go and play hard together for 60 minutes.”
+ After a rough six-game losing streak, the Kraken have three wins and six points in their last four games. Those points come after playing four of the top teams in the NHL (Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida) in succession.
“Honestly, I believe we’re past the building blocks, and we’re just trying to put wins together,” Hakstol said. “We went through a tough stretch, where we couldn’t find a result that would go our way. We hit a few speed bumps and wobbled a little bit, but we had to push back, and the pushback has come in a real tough stretch on the schedule in terms of playing high level teams.”
+ Will Borgen made his Kraken debut Saturday. The former Buffalo Sabres defenseman has been practicing with Seattle all year only to be a daily healthy scratch. He ended the night with 13:51 of ice time and one shot.
+ Seattle owned the dot on Saturday, winning the faceoff battle easily. Morgan Geekie went 11-for-14 on the draw and former Panther Alex Wennberg won 13 of the 16 faceoffs he took.
+ The Kraken were again without captain Mark Giordano who remains in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. Calle Jarnkrok was also out of the lineup for the second straight game after sustaining an undisclosed injury in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Hurricanes.