SAN JOSE, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Goaltender Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks blocks a shot against the Chicago Blackhawks at HP Pavilion at San Jose on February 10, 2012 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Pekka Rinne would withstand a barrage of shots throughout the course of the game, with San Jose uncorking on him from nearly every conceivable angle and generating some excellent opportunities off the rush with smart and sound passes out of their own end.
Credit should also be given to Antti Niemi, who had an outstanding game between the pipes for San Jose and stymied countless Predators scoring chances throughout the tilt.
San Jose came out very strong to start the game, outshooting the Predators 6-1 through eight minutes of play. They were breaking out of the zone very cleanly, no easy task against a good forechecking team like the Predators, and the Sharks defensemen were providing good puck support to jump up into the low-risk circles with speed to receive the far forwards pass from what was typically the half wall.
Halfway through the period however San Jose got into trouble after a turnover high in the offensive zone was followed by a high sticking penalty that put Marc-Edouard Vlasic into the penalty box for two minutes. On what was probably Nashville's second scoring chance of the period Patric Hornqvist would strike.
With Mike Fisher in possession of the puck along the halfboards, and Hornqvist along with another Predators forward camped out on opposite sides of the net, Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray left the crease to challenge the puck carrier. Fisher would make an easy feed to Hornqvist alone in front and put it past Niemi and give the Predators a one goal lead. As the far-side forward Marleau needs to creep down on that if Murray is communicating with him, but the primary takeaway will be that Murray needs to stay put and never vacate the slot, especially when San Jose is outmanned in that situation. The only time a defenseman should make that play is if there's a puck battle along the low boards, but with clear Nashville position you need to stay home and guard the crease.
The second period would see an even better effort from the Sharks and yet would finish yet again without a tally in the back of the net. San Jose was finishing their checks all over the ice and ramping up the physical play, with big hits from Jason Demers and Dan Boyle being just a few of the bombs that were dropped on the Predators.
But despite the numerous chances, including a trio of Grade A opportunities from T.J. Galiardi who just clipped Rinne's blocker, a Patrick Marleau shot that beat Rinne under the glove but trickled wide by an inch, and Martin Havlat who got robbed by the absurdly athletic Pekka Rinne low in the slot, San Jose could not convert. It has been the story of their slide as of late and in the second period that was on full display.
At the start of the third, San Jose finally got the bounce they needed.
With 1:49 in power play time left to start the frame, and the Sharks looking for any way to get one past Rinne, the Sharks' Dan Boyle set up shop at the top of the zone after receiving a pass from Captain Joe Thornton. Boyle would rifle a puck to the net that glanced off the body of Patrick Marleau, landing right on the tape of Thornton. He wasted no time burying one into the back of the gaping net, sending 17,562 to their feet in celebration as stale air was expelled from their weary lungs.
The momentum would continue for San Jose as they continued to pour shots on net, but Rinne would handle the firing range with composure. Antti Niemi was also quite good down the stretch for the Sharks, making a beautiful point blank stop on a Predators forward who had broken into the zone all alone at around the 12:30 mark.
It would lead to the end of the third where Nashville would begin to carry the play for some shifts on end, but San Jose refused to break. It would earn them a point as the game went into overtime with the stage set and the Sharks prepared to bring the house. Dan Boyle had an excellent one on one move that split the Nashville defense into pieces but wouldn't go, as Rinne just managed to stick the left pad out. Thornton would follow that up with a dirty feed across two sets of bodies that just handcuffed Joe Pavelski.
Overall I thought Martin Havlat looked excellent compared to my expectations of him coming in after such a long 39 game layoff. There were moments when you could tell the legs just weren't there for him, the most glaring example being in the first period when just a little extra gas in the tank could have sprung him all alone in front of the net, but that is to be expected when a player is out for as long as he has been. We've been saying this for almost half the year now, but Havlat will be a crucial piece for this Sharks team in the next 12 games and beyond. And all the signs from tonight point to things trending in the right direction for him.
I also thought Justin Braun was a standout on the blueline tonight, completing long outlet passes tape to tape and jumping up smartly into the rush to go along with some well placed shots that created danger for Nashville.
San Jose will play their next game at home against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.
And once again, San Jose will be looking at yet another must-win.
With the next one just as important, even with the blessings of a big two points.