By Mary Walsh
Amid the hubbub of Olympic roster announcements Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks had a game to play in Nashville. They lost 3-2, but made a game of it despite yet more changes to their lineup, including the loss of Logan Couture to injury. Couture is scheduled for surgery, and is expected to be out for three to four weeks.
The Sharks were still without Tommy Wingels (upper body), Martin Havlat (lower body), Tyler Kennedy (flu) and Tomas Hertel (knee). No reinforcements were coming from the old list of injured, no Raffi Torres, no Adam Burish. Freddie Hamilton had just been sent down to Worcester, while Matt Nieto, Bracken Kearns and Eriah Hayes stayed with the big club. Hamilton was called right back up.
The game was an opportunity for new players to step up. One always wants a win, but it is not surprising that recently-arrived players in new positions, with new linemates, will probably need more than one practice to get in sync. Seeing the team find some cohesion as the game wore on should make the loss a little more palatable.
A failure to call goaltender interference in the second period made the Predators’ game winning goal count. The official explanation was that Marc-Edouard Vlasic had pushed Colin Wilson into Antti Niemi. Todd McLellan said a few words about that after the game* (from CSNCA broadcast):
Even if there was a touch of contact there, you’re not allowed to jump on top of the goaltender. We all know that, there’s a lot of people that understand that, but… it happened.
The game started out inauspiciously, when Joe Thornton was called for hooking just ten seconds into the game. The Predators’ power play was ranked 7th in the league. The Sharks’ penalty kill was ranked 14th. The Sharks killed the penalty, despite some failures to clear.
At 8:57, Matt Cullen was called for interference on Jason Demers, putting the Sharks on the power play. It was an unspectacular power play. They only mustered one shot with that man advantage.
Possibly the Sharks’ best chance of the period came in the final minute, when Matt Nieto passed the puck from the blue line to Patrick Marleau in the slot, with Joe Pavelski in range of a rebound. Apart from that, the first period was a grind, at least for the Sharks.
The Predators kept them well to the outside whenever they gained the offensive zone. At the end of the period, the Predators led 10-7 in shots on goal and 9-4 in faceoffs.
At 6:11 of the second, David Legwand opened the scoring to give the Predators the lead. Joe Thorton and Jason Demers were both trying to move the puck away from Craig Smith but the puck got through both of them. Legwand got behind Demers and put a shot past Antti Niemi on the far side. It was Legwand’s first goal in 11 games. Assists went to Smith and Shea Weber.
The Sharks answered a few minutes later with a power play goal, after Mattias Ekholm was called for delay of game at 6:11. Joe Pavelski tipped a Dan Boyle shot from the blue line to tie the game. It was Pavelski’s 19th goal of the season, his 10th in the last 14 games. Assists went to Boyle and Demers.
Less than a minute later, the Predators retook the lead. Despite good pressure from Justin Braun, Ekholm got a backhand shot off, with good traffic in front of Niemi. The assist went to Legwand. It was Ekholm’s first NHL goal.
The Predators’ third goal came after Colin Wilson fell across Niemi’s right leg, pinning him in place and leaving the net wide open for Nashville defenseman Roman Josi’s shot. Officials apparently believed Wilson was pushed by Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Assists went to Weber and Wilson.
The Sharks didn’t score on their next power play, when Nick Spaling was called for holding the stick at 13:38 of the second. Nevertheless, the Sharks’ third power play was miles better than their first. The new lines seemed to be finding a groove.
The Predators outshot the Sharks through the second period as they had done in the first, 13-10.
Brent Burns drew a hooking call on Shea Weber with a driving play that gave the Predators a scare at 4:05 of the third period. The Sharks held the zone for about 45 seconds before the Predators could push the first power play unit out of the zone. The next good chances fell to Bracken Kearns on the second unit. The Sharks had four shots on that power play.
With under two minutes left and the Sharks’ net empty, Nieto found Marleau in front of the net for a tip in to make it 2-3. Assists went to Nieto and Demers. Todd McLellan used his time out shortly thereafter, but the Sharks ran out of time.
The Sharks outshot the Predators in the third, to bring the final count even at 28. Nashville won 32 faceoffs to the Sharks’ 20. The Sharks got credit for 12 takeaways to the Predators’ 9. The Sharks’ power play finished 1/4, the Predators’ 0/1.
Brent Burns led the Sharks in shots with five, and Patrick Marleau had four. Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi each had five for Nashville. Mike Brown led the Sharks in hits with five, while Rich Clune and Kevin Klein led the Predators with four each.
*More of what McLellan said about that non-call:
Does it make it tougher? That’s a blown call, and we played 44 games, I go back to the Buffalo blown call in overtime, I go to the blown call in Winnipeg. I go to one against Minnesota, and I go to another one tonight, and that’s one in every eleven games. And I understand mistakes, because I make a lot of them behind the bench. But when you get an explanation from a group of people and it didn’t happen, it’s disappointing. It really, really is disappointing. And there’s also a protocol to follow in our league. That protocol is you get together and you discuss it. That didn’t happen either. So obviously I’m not very happy with it.
The lines McLellan started with, and pretty much kept in place through the game were: Burns-Thornton-Pavelski, Nieto-Marleau-Kearns, Hamilton-Desjardins-Sheppard, and Hayes-McCarthy-Brown. Defensive pairs were Stuart-Demers, Boyle-Vlasic, and Braun-Irwin. The only healthy scratch was Scott Hannan.