Even with the current homestand going their way, the Sharks had a big challenge ahead of them Saturday night when the surging Nashville Predators came into town. Particularly when it came to getting the puck past goaltending great Pekka Rinne, who entered the tilt with a league-leading 19 wins.
But Team Teal prepared.
“We were ready today,” Joe Pavelski said. “We knew (the Predators) were a good team. Good goalie, good defense, they don’t give up much. Their transition game is good. Those were things that we talked about early, and we handled them.”
The home team shut them out 2-0 in one of the Sharks’ most complete games of the season, notching their sixth straight home win in excellent fashion.
“We had a game plan and we bought into it,” Todd McLellan said. “It was a good team win tonight. Everybody bought in and sacrificed. Some guys didn’t get on the scoresheet … but they found ways to be real effective.”
One player who stuck out without notching a point was Barclay Goodrow. The rookie forward was on Nashville’s radar from the first frame on to the final buzzer, taking big hits from defenseman Shea Weber throughout the match and continued to stand up for himself. (The musical highlight of the night was when things got chippy between Goodrow and a few Predators with less than a minute left in regulation, and Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” played over the sound system.)
Goodrow admitted afterwards that he was ready to fight back, and enjoys a “scrappy” type game. “I like getting under their skin,” he said with a smile. “You kind of know you’re doing a good job when they start talking to you and chirping at you.”
With the shutout, Antti Niemi became the first Sharks netminder to blank the Predators since Evgeni Nabokov did it in 2007. Not bad for a guy who was riding pine all week with an injury he sustained during morning skate before Tuesday’s tilt against the Edmonton Oilers.
San Jose looked confident and aggressive right from the drop of the puck. Tomas Hertl’s first scoring attempt in the crease was denied by Rinne. But on the top line’s next shift he grabbed a rebound of a Pavelski shot and chipped it into the back of the net to take a 1-0 lead a little over five minutes into the first frame.
San Jose had an opportunity on the man advantage in the second period, but Rinne was in fine form, robbing Pavelski of two incredible attempts to increase San Jose’s lead. On the other end of things, San Jose’s penalty kill was at its best, denying the Predators the opportunity to notch a power play goal twice during that same frame.
Nashville picked up their game in the third, outshooting San Jose 18-5 and applying major pressure in front of the Sharks’ net. Niemi sprawled out to make a huge save on Weber to keep the opponent from tying the game up on the Sharks penalty kill — one of the Sharks’ best kills of the game. Later, Niemi’s helmet blocked a shot by Olli Jokinen that would have given the Predators their first goal on the evening. Desperate to get on the scoreboard, Nashville pulled Rinne — who was easily the Predators’ best player on the evening — for an extra skater. But the move played out in the Sharks’ favor as Joe Thornton notched an empty net goal at 18:26 to solidify San Jose’s win.
After the solid win, McLellan was asked if the team was playing their “best hockey” of the season. “The record would indicate that, but I think we’ve got to look beyond that,” he said. “We have to look at the little things that we’re trying to accomplish, and we probably are.”