The circumstances were not good for the San Jose Sharks as they finished up their three-game road trip against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, January 7. Namely, seven forwards were out and the game-winning goal should have been disallowed.
Still, the Pacific Division-contending Sharks were done in more by their own poor play than anything else. They had a couple of the pictured top performers but not enough effort from their few remaining quality forwards to beat the third-worst team in the Western Conference.
It started with San Jose captain Joe Thornton taking a penalty for hooking 10 seconds into the game. The penalty was killed and the first period ended scoreless, but even a Matt Cullen penalty later in the frame was not enough help to have more than seven shots on goal, while Nashville had 10.
As has happened much for the Sharks so far in the 2013-13 NHL season, the second period was their undoing. A faceoff win for David Legwand wound up as a goal for him (Craig Smith and Shea Weber got the assists) just 3:35 in.
Joe Pavelski tipped in a Dan Boyle shot that gave Jason Demers his first assist of the night just over three minutes later, but Legwand won another faceoff to start the next score just 19 seconds after San Jose drew even. Just eight second after that, his shot was deflected in by Mattias Ekholm.
It is the next goal that ended up being the game-winner and is the most controversial. Antti Niemi was clearly moved to his left by the Predators before Roman Josi put the shot to the other side of the cage. Weber and Colin Wilson were credited with the assists at 11:30 of the second period.
The lack of a call enraged the Sharks, who had 14 of the last 21 shots. Unfortunately they could manage no better than the Dec. 14 loss in Nashville—a Patrick Marleau goal with Niemi pulled, this one on a good feed from Matt Nieto.
Of course if the call is made, the game is played differently. Ultimately, inconsistency in the way games are refereed comes with the territory of playing in the NHL. Teams that lose the battles right from the faceoff (32-20 Predators) and cannot get more shots on goal despite 12 more attempts because they are not as committed to shot-blocking (20-7) do not really deserve the win.
On the plus side, San Jose has retained its recent physical edge, out-hitting Nashville 24-15. That and three extra takeaways (12-9) without more giveaways (five each) helped offset the faceoff deficit.
The problem is that someone has to make the Sharks mad for them to play the way they are capable of playing. That is not how Stanley Cup contenders play.
San Jose is in a dogfight for home-ice advantage in the first round, which requires a second-place finish in the Pacific Division. The regulation loss drops them to three games back of the Anaheim Ducks for first place and two ahead of the Los Angeles Kings for second. Either team would hold the tie-breaker.
In the brutally competitive Western Conference, the more games a strong home team can host in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the better.