Antti Niemi

Chances for division win get slimmer for Sharks

SJ SharksThe top end of the NHL’s Western Conference is smattered with Xs right now, and the Sharks are right in the middle of it all. While St. Louis may be running away with the Conference’s top seed, the Pacific Division isn’t sewn up yet, although the Ducks got one step closer with the Sharks 3-0 loss to Nashville Saturday night.

The Predators aren’t awful, but they aren’t sitting next to one of those Xs either. This is a game that the Sharks should have won, but it was an awful second period highlighted by two goals from Patric Hornqvist and a Roman Josi goal (assisted by Hornqvist) that spelled disaster for San Jose. The collapse was equal parts horrible defense and soft goaltending, and that’s becoming a trend for Brad Stuart, Dan Boyle and Antti Niemi. Stuart was guilty of allowing the floodgates to open by letting Hornqvist past him and standing by to watch the first goal of the game. Jason Demers was guilty of the same offense later in the second.

San Jose’s power play, along with the shifts that followed, were the other culprits in the loss. The Sharks threw up a donut in the man-advantage department Saturday and then ceded pressure once the offenders stepped out of the box. That trend resulted in goals twice in the second period.

The Sharks offense suffered from a couple missed opportunities and struck posts, but for the most part, Predators goaltender Carter Hutton was awesome. They threw 35 shots on him and, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Hutton stopped them all.

The whole “Sharks are just playing down to their competition” narrative feels like a bit of a stretch here, because I can’t think of a more crucial time to get up for a game. Despite taking them down Thursday, San Jose should want to avoid Los Angeles if they can help it. They can do so by overtaking the Ducks, who have a few games in hand but will be head-to-head on the schedule when the rivals face on Wednesday. Overtaking the Ducks at the end of the season means avoiding facing the Kings in the first round, as well as holding home-ice advantage over Anaheim.

This loss doesn’t eliminate that possibility, but it certainly takes fate out of their hands for the time being.

Off the post

— I’ll keep this brief because there really isn’t much to say now. Antti Niemi is still one of the better goalies in the league, but I’m fairly comfortable stating that Alex Stalock is better. It doesn’t matter, because Niemi is and will be Todd McLellan’s guy. It’ll take an epic playoff collapse to go forward with Stalock. It’ll probably be too late if that happens.

— Angry Joe made his triumphant return late in the third period, going after Hornqvist when the game was pretty much out of reach. Thornton had a little stick fight with the Predators’ forward before grabbing him by the lapels and socking him in the face. It was beautiful, and it brought back memories of Jumbo dropping the gloves in playoff series past. More Angry Joe please.

— Dan Boyle enjoyed a couple sequences where he showed off that ballerina-style skating that he’s become famous for. He’s still got the skating ability, but his decline has been so rapid that it’s scary. Enjoy Boyle while you can, Sharks fans, because this will be his last season in teal.

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