AP Photo/Ben Margot
By Mary Walsh
SAN JOSE– Saturday, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Nashville Predators by a score of 2-0. A goal from Tomas Hertl gave the Sharks the lead midway through the first period and they never gave it back. In the final minutes, Joe Thornton added the insurance goal. Antti Niemi made 29 saves for the shutout win. Nashville’s Pekka Rinne made 32 saves on 33 shots to keep his team in the game.
This season’s Predators are a turbo-charged version of the Nashville teams the Sharks have faced for several seasons now. Always defensively formidable, this year’s Preds have just enough extra offense to increase their goal scoring without taking anything away from their defensive play. They are a model for anyone wondering how important defense is to offense.
Saturday, those turbo engines misfired. Not only did the Predators fail to score or take many shots, they also took an uncharacteristic number of penalties, and there were times when the Sharks ran their defense ragged.
The Sharks were in rare form. They blocked almost as many shots as the Predators took, and won 46 of 72 faceoffs. They outshot the Predators 34-29, but through the first two periods that count was 29-11. After the game, Joe Thornton talked about the Sharks’ good start: “You try to get off to a good start every night but just sometimes it happens better than other nights for whatever reason. Tonight was one of those nights when we started fast and it won the game for us probably.”
Oddly, this year’s Predators have a habit of giving up the first goal of the game. It is a peculiar pattern, considering they entered Saturday’s contest second in the very tough Central Division.
They gave up that first goal again Saturday, when Joe Thornton picked up a dump in from Scott Hannan. He passed it to Joe Pavelski, who shot it, creating a rebound that Tomas Hertl could pick up as he came acorss in front of the crease. It was Hertl’s seventh goal of the season.
The Predators are not in the habit of taking penalties. They had the fewest overall in the NHL, before Saturday. Their average penalty minutes per game was 7.1. On Saturday they had 11 penalty minutes before the second period was over. The Sharks had the same number but their average has been higher at 10.5 per game.
The Sharks took the first penalty of the game at 6:04 of the first, a hooking call on Chris Tierney.
By the midpoint of the first period, the shot count was 11-3 Sharks.
The Sharks also took the second penalty, a slashing call to Barclay Goodrow. That call came at 17:13 of the period. Before that was over, Tommy Wingels and James Neal had a bout, which earned each the usual five minutes, with an additional two minutes for Neal for cross-checking.
The period ended with the Sharks up 1-0 and ahead in shots 18-7.
The Sharks started the second period with a little over a minute of power play time. They had a few good passes but they did not register a shot.
The Sharks’ next power play opportunity came at at 7:54 of the second, a hooking call on Nashville defenseman Seth Jones. That power play started very well, with the Predators getting in the way of some good chances for the Sharks, without being able to push the Sharks out of the zone. The second minute of the penalty was less noteworthy, with the second power play unit unable to get set up. The first unit took over again for the last half minute or so but the scrore remained unchanged at 1-0 Sharks.
Mike Fisher took the next penalty for the Predators, two minutes for high sticking. At the same time, James Sheppard was called for holding the stick. The resulting four on four started out in the Sharks’ zone but the Preds were pushed out without getting any shots on net. The Sharks spent their time in the Nashville end a little more productively, getting credit for three shots.
Through the course of the second period, the Predators only got four shots on net to the Sharks’ eleven.
At 4:25 of the third, Justin Braun was called for holding in an encounter that put Ryan Ellis on his posterior right in front of Antti Niemi. Braun was not happy about the call but it did eliminate a scoring chance. The Sharks penalty killers outdid themselves keeping the Predators from ever sustaining pressure on the power play, though they did add a few shots to their count.
At 12:28 of the period, James Sheppard and Shea Webber took turns throwing cross checks. Sheppard cross checked Craig Smith, and Weber cross-checked Sheppard. They went to their respective boxes for two minutes. Neither team scored.
The Predators could not score with their goalie pulled either, and at 18:26 Joe Thornton took advantage of the absent netminder to score the empty netter.
The period came to a close in a flurry of whistles and penalties. At 19:39, James Neal was called for embellishment, Ryan Ellis was given a 10 minute misconduct, Barclay Goodrow got one of those as well and a two minute slashing penalty.
Joe Pavelski led the Sharks in shots with seven. Tommy Wingels led the team with six hits and Marc-Edouard Vlasic blocked a team high of five shots.
The Sharks next play at 7:30 PT on Thursday the 18th, when they will host the Edmonton Oilers again at SAP Center.