There was a time when playing the Nashville Predators meant squaring off against a healthy Paul Kariya, a pre-defection Alexander Radulov, in-their-primes Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan and, for a brief span that included a playoff series against the Sharks, Peter Forsberg. That time isn't now and what was once an opponent that provided for exciting, offense-driven hockey has progressed (or is that regressed?) in the other direction to the point where games against the Predators are usually effective Ambien substitutes.
Prior to a tense but short-lived overtime, that was the case again tonight in the Sharks' 1-0 loss that represents their sixth straight defeat since rattling off victories in the season's first seven games. Perhaps eager to erase that stinker of a game in Columbus from everyone's collective memory, San Jose was dominant in the first period, with their new-look fourth line generating four times as many scoring chances as the entire Predators team. But a failure to capitalize on a slew of power plays in the second paved the way for a lifeless third period performance, perhaps stemming from the Sharks playing their second game in as many days (although "playing" is probably a pretty generous term to describe their loss to the Blue Jackets).
A lot of things were going the Sharks' way when they opened the season with an extended winning streak. The power play was unsustainably hot, Patrick Marleau was scoring on every other shot he took, the top line as a whole was good for about a goal per period, Antti Niemi was standing on his head and Martin Havlat looked like a dangerous offensive threat. Ironically, the few things that were malfunctioning during their 7-0-0 run--the penalty kill, the mobility of their blueline, the atrocious third line--have all been largely fixed over the course of their losses. But the aspects of their game that carried them to becoming the final undefeated team standing in the NHL have gone completely awry as of late (except for Niemi, he's still awesome). It's been all or nothing for each facet of the Sharks' roster over the two halves of the season that have thus far been played, and therein lies the problem.
It's not that the Sharks as a whole were as terrific as their unbeaten start indicated or have been as poor as their latest winless run implies. The components of their game that excelled in the early going masked some serious deficiencies. Many of those deficiencies were then addressed and dealt with but the previously reliable features of their game descended into the gutter. Until things finally start clicking in unison, it's going to be tough sledding for this team.
- Todd McLellan said after the game that Brent Burns being out of the lineup was a combination of health issues and coach's decision. Hopefully it's more the former than the latter because, as terrible as Burns was in Columbus, there's no justifying putting Douglas Murray in the lineup over him, especially against a team that can skate as well as the Predators.
- Being paired with Murray is a thankless task but Justin Braun can perform it better than most. I thought he was solid on both sides of the puck tonight.
- Antti Niemi is undoubtedly the Sharks' MVP at this point. He made several key saves late in the third period when the Sharks were hemmed in their own end in order to force OT. Among goalies who have appeared in at least five games this season, only Craig Anderson and Roberto Luongo have posted higher save percentages than Nemo.
- As advertised, Tim Kennedy was one crafty little fucker in the offensive zone. He was far less impressive in the other two zones but, on the whole, did not look one bit out of place on the Logan Couture line.
- The fourth line was the Sharks' best, which is both great and deeply depressing. With all the references to line juggling, I can't think of a line that better represents what you'd get out of a random combination generator than T.J. Galiardi, Adam Burish and Havlat but they were buzzing in the offensive zone tonight.
- At the end of the day, the Sharks aren't going to win many games in which their top line plays this poorly. I just don't think blindly swapping forwards around is the best solution here. San Jose needs Marleau, Thornton and Pavelski playing at the level they were last year and earlier in this one. They've had so much success together that letting them play through this rough patch seems like the best option.