The San Jose Sharks entered Saturday night, February 2 with a perfect point percentage. The Nashville Predators out-battled the hosts at HP Pavilion, keeping them from two records: NHL record 10 wins to start the season and the franchise record for 11 consecutive wins.
Perfection was never an option. But eight games in, they are missing just one point.
With the condensed schedule caused by the NHL lockout, eight games is the equivalent of a month without a regulation loss. If the Sharks barely exceed .500 hockey the rest of the way, they finish with 56 points and earn the same point percentage that got them the seventh seed in the Western Conference for the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Yet the goal has to be winning the Pacific Division, and the Anaheim Ducks are right on their tails. A win tonight allowed them to host Monday's duel between the rivals having a chance to close their margin to two points with one less game played.
Nashville won this game by forcing San Jose to play their way.
They held the Sharks below 30 shots and 54 attempts even though there were five extra minutes played because of overtime. They got 24 of 53 through themselves, only lost two more draws than they won and got that margin back with a slightly better giveaway-takeaway differential. They also out-hit the Sharks 30-24 while not taking any more penalties (five each for 10 minutes).
Yet it was special teams that made the difference. The Sharks killed all five penalties and converted on their last power play to tie the score. That backhand goal by Martin Havlat (assist to Scott Gomez) answered a goal about a minute into the third by Andrei Kostitsyn, but it was also a measure of redemption.
Shortly after killing off a questionable penalty to Patrick Marleau, Ryane Clowe fired a puck on net at the mid-point of the game that hit the crossbar and dropped, but play continued. Unfortunately the Sharks did not, and a celebration rather than put-back by Havlat standing alone in the crease cost the team a sure goal.
Antti Niemi was able to make that one goal stand through overtime by turning away tremendous scoring chances in every period. Examiner.com asked him if his focus intensified after letting in the soft goal in the home opener vs. the Phoenix Coyotes (no games of more than two goals and a goals against average under 1.50), and he replied that he does not dwell on the past.
We also asked coach Todd McLellan about the magic number of three brought up after the opener. After saying it needed to be more of a focus that night, the team has given up just six goals in five games and kept the opposition below three each time. This is what he had to say about what was being done differently:
When teams break down there is usually somebody late...such is the goal Nashville scored tonight—we weren't quite in position and NHL teams will make you pay for that. But working as five, the ability to roll four lines...we're getting tremendous goaltending and net play by our D.
Jason Demers got on the ice and looked rusty, but had four hits, a blocked shot and a takeaway. James Sheppard pushed the play on the second line right from the start, drawing a penalty on the opening shift. T.J. Galiardi returned to the ice, and Tommy Wingels and Matt Irwin were healthy scratches to make room for the additions.
Examiner.com "three" stars of the game:
- Pekka Rinne showed why he was a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2012, turning away 27 shots during the game and all three in the shootout. Among them were several high percentage chances.
- Niemi was the reason the Sharks came away with a point. He stopped 23 of 24 and had a few jaw-droppers among them, especially late.
- Kostitsyn had the only even-strength goal and added two hits without a giveaway.
- Logan Couture deserves mention not only because his line was the strongest. He had two shots, hits and blocks, plus three takeaways to just one giveaway while winning 54 percent of faceoffs.