The San Jose Sharks came into their contest against the Nashville Predators Saturday, March 2, with the goal of putting their troubles in the past. February was once again unkind, with scoring taking the mulligan that last season belonged to the defense: 15 goals were scored in a 2-6-4 stretch that saw them fall from best in the NHL to out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Coach Todd McLellan was noticeably frustrated after Thursday's game, specifically mentioning that Joe Thornton should have been looking to shoot rather than pass on an odd-man rush. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson had referred to them as "pass-first in a shoot-first league." CSN Bay Area wondered if the message was received.
It was received loud and clear.
In the first period, San Jose got pucks and traffic to the net. When they began to get those elements of the offense in sync, they were able to get rebounds and deflections that led to reaching 16 shots in the opening period to Nashville's six. A second resulting power play was cashed in on when Joe Pavelski provided a screen for a Dan Boyle slap shot from the high slot.
It was more of the same in the second period. San Jose's attack kept the pressure on and helped draw another penalty. This time Pavelski got the score when he pushed the puck from behind the net and got to it before anyone for Nashville could react. Thornton and Logan Couture alternated primary and secondary assists on the two goals, and Joe reached 1100 points over his illustrious NHL career.
The Sharks had 14 shots in the period and once again held the Predators to six. That put them at a 30-shot plateau after two periods—a level they had reached in only three entire games in all of February.
After the game, many of the questions to Todd McLellan dealt with telling players to shoot more: "That message has been there for five years. It's doing it over and over again. ...Shots come in succession—one, two, three."
As for the power play coming around, he said it was "a matter of time" because it was beginning to "starting to look dangerous again." He also pointed out that the Sharks "still only scored two, and without the power play tonight, that's a goose egg. ...If you can count on your power play to give you something once every four or five times, that would be a really good thing."
The Predators pushed back in the third period, but were still out-shot, 9-7 in the period. However, Matt Irwin flailed at a puck rimming around the boards on San Jose's last power play, then stumbled as he turned to get it. Gabriel Bourque got to the puck and beat Justin Braun's attempt to support from the other side with enough cushion to fake Antti Niemi out of his way for the shorthanded goal.
With 5:30 left in the game, its outcome was very precarious. As thick as the shot advantage was, the Predators captured the momentum when they get back to even strength with over five minutes to go. But Niemi was up to the task, including a couple jaw-dropping saves.
Rinne faced not only more shots, but more quality chances. The Sharks were all over the ice, out-dueling the Predators in every facet of the game. They won nine more draws, gave the puck away five more times but took it away two more. Despite attempting 16 more shots than their opponents, they managed to block eight more and were only out-hit 26-23.
When asked about the extra jump the team had tonight, Dan Boyle said "the energy just came from desperation...needing a win badly." The team has been playing hard of late, but just did not seem desperate to score until putting on their best performance in over a month.
Asked about the importance of keeping a team they are competing with in the Western Conference from getting a point, Thornton said "you want to leapfrog them...every point you can take away from another team is huge." With the win, they moved back from ninth to fifth. The loss drops Nashville to the eighth spot, but they have a lower point percentage than 10 other teams in the conference.
There were more than three stars in this game for San Jose. With each having an assist on both goals, Couture (four shots in five attempts, three blocked shots, a hit, giveaway, win and loss in the circle) and Thornton (hit, three giveaways but two takeaways and 11 of 16 in the circle) deserve mention. But the three best players Saturday were as follows:
- Pavelski not only got the game-winning goal but provided the screen on the other score, put four of six attempts on net, blocked one of Nashville's shots, had two takeaways to just one giveaway and won all five draws.
- Niemi was stellar again, turning away an early breakaway on the power play that could have changed the entire complexion of the game as well as 17 other shots (.947 save percentage). Mostly, he remained sharp despite getting little action.
- Rinne did everything but score for the Predators, turning away all 37 shots he saw and all but two he did not for a .949 save percentage.