A team has a strong first period where they outshoot their opposition by a wide margin, a second period where the pressure still is favoring that team but the other team is doing better, and a third period where they blow it, allowing the other team to ultimately win post-regulation.
Tonight’s game was a familiar sight for Sharks fans; what the Penguins went through on Thursday against the Sharks, the Sharks went through tonight against the Predators. The Sharks, after a strong first and a lead going into the third period, lost 4-3 in overtime to the Nashville Predators.
The first period was the antithesis of Thurday's first period; the Sharks absolutely controlled the play, ultimately taking 19 shots to the Predators' 7. The start of the period was a bit more even - each team had three shots in the first five minutes of play - but the Sharks were the ones with better chances.
Logan Couture started off what would be an excellent offensive game for him with a beauty of a pass to Dan Boyle, who was streaking into the slot and redirected the pass towards the net. Pekka Rinne did what Pekka Rinne does and saved the shot with his blocker.
Joe Pavelski was also an offensive force tonight after suffering from the flu for the past two days, beginning with a shot off a pass from Joe Thornton that Rinne manages to cover up. He also drew the first penalty of the game, a hook from Mike Fisher.
The first period also featured an excellent defensive play by Justin Braun, who had to cover his defensive partner Colin White after White fell down at the point while attempting to shoot the puck while under pressure from a Predator. Braun effectively defended the charging Predators player, taking the puck away and not allowing him to get more than five feet past the Sharks’ own blue line. It’s further evolution of Braun as a good young defenseman, as he makes a case every game why he should not be sent down to Worcester.
However, despite the Sharks’ exceptionally strong play, they exit the period tied with the Predators with goose eggs all around, largely due to Rinne’s soon-to-be $7 million saves.
The second period, a traditionally strong period for both teams, did not disappoint as both teams got on the board. The Predators, not the Sharks, start off the scoring early. Immediately after Niemi makes a huge save on Colin Wilson to keep the zeroes, David Legwand gets his fourth of the season at 1:02 into the second on a shot from the blueline that bounces off Torrey Mitchell and into the net. Little could be done to stop that goal, as Mitchell was stand to the left of the goal and it took a fluke bounce to go behind Niemi.
The Sharks answer back a little over three minutes later with a gorgeous passing play that connects the new top line of Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski. Thornton starts things off with a near-blind backhanded pass to Couture, who then does an amazing blind backhand pass of his own to Pavelski, who – as he is apt to do this season – buries it past Rinne. It was one of the most beautiful goals scored this season, connecting three traditional centers in a play that can only come from some of the best passers in the game.
Nashville responds to the equalizer by playing strong, eventually drawing a penalty after Jamie McGinn tripped Colin Wilson. In the first penalty kill since the Sharks were in New York, the Sharks were great. Michal Handzus had a shorthand chance and blocks a Shea Weber slapshot, and Couture had a near shorthanded chance as well. The Predators even ice the puck, to put the cherry on top of what was an extremely successful penalty kill by the Sharks.
But then the Predators take a penalty of their own when Teemu Laakso takes a blatant slashing penalty on Torrey Mitchell to put the Sharks on their first power play of the game. The Sharks don't take long to convert: 49 seconds into the penalty, Clowe takes the puck to the net, Couture whacks at the rebound, and Marty Havlat picks up the third rebound and roofs it over Rinne for his first goal in Teal. Sharks take the lead for the first time, 2-1.
Sharks get another power play right after the Havlat goal when Shea Weber takes a slashing penalty, but this one is nowhere near as good as the first two; the Predators killed it and managed to sustain some pressure in the Sharks’ zone while shorthanded.
That power play marked the beginning of the decline of the Sharks’ play for the night. The Sharks took a penalty – a questionable goalie interference call on Joe Thornton – and passed up on several good chances, such as a two-on-one with Thornton and Couture.
The start of the third period had the Sharks emulate the Detroit Red Wings. First, Brent Burns dumped the puck into the Predators’ zone, but it took an awkward bounce reminiscent of those in the Joe Louis Arena off the glass and was inches away from going into the net. And just 52 seconds into the third, Couture extends the Sharks' lead. Pavelski dumps the puck in hard and it takes a fortuitous bounce over Rinne's stick to a streaking Couture, who roofs it over Rinne's shoulder.
Both Logan Couture (1G, 2A) and Joe Pavelski (1G, 1A) had great nights for the Sharks. If Steve Mason was in net, both would easily have hat tricks. Pavelski led all players with eight shots, while Couture had four. Couture and Pavelski ended up with the second and third stars, respectively, despite their ultimately losing effort.
After Couture’s goal, the Sharks decided, as a team, to not show up for the rest of the game. Which, in the NHL, is never a good idea.
Two minutes after the Sharks extend their lead, the Predators ramp up their play and have extended zone time, ultimately resulting in a goal. Shea Weber shoots the puck from the high slot, which Niemi slows down but it sneaks through his pads behind him. Patrick Hornqvist was waiting on the doorstep and pounds the puck into the goal, cutting the Sharks’ lead to one.
Five minutes into the third, Patrick Marleau dashes his Lady Byng hopes by taking an interference penalty. The Sharks get the initial clear, but Ryan Suter converts with a nice shot over Niemi’s right shoulder – a shot that Niemi should have had. The goal initially looked like it would not count, as the net was partially off its mooring, but as rule 78.4 states:
The goal frame could be raised somewhat on one post (or both), but as long as the flexible pegs are still in contact with the holes in the ice and the goal posts, the goal frame shall not be deemed to be displaced.
The rest of the third period was scoreless, but featured more of Nashville dominating much in the same way the Sharks were dominating in the first. Whenever the Sharks attempted to get any offensive zone time, a Nashville player would pressure the puck carrier, never allowing the Sharks to set up a cycle.
The third line of Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus, and Torrey Mitchell was the best line in the last half of the third, actually sustaining some offense and rarely giving up scoring chances to the Predators. It was noted prior to the game that Havlat and Handzus had prior chemistry together back when they both played in Chicago on the same line for all of eight games; it seems that several years and teams later, that chemistry remains.
The third period ended with the Sharks on the power play from Jonathan Blum hook with a little over a minute to go. While the Sharks started off poorly, not able to set up until 30 seconds into the power play, there is a glorious chance by Pavelski on the backdoor off of a pass by Thornton, but Rinne makes the save.
Overtime was reminiscent of the second period – chances by both teams with neither really dominating. It was also reminiscent in that the Predators are the ones to strike first. David Legwand notched his second goal on the night after crossing over with Bouillon as another Predator drove the net – a simple hockey play, but one that proved to be incredibly effective.
After Thursday night's two minute debaucle for Antti Niemi, the big question going into this game was whether or not Niemi would bounce back with a strong game. The results were mixed; while Niemi made several big stops, a couple of goals - notably the game-tying goal and the game winner - probably should have been stopped. However, in the early goings Niemi was playing strong, and it was not until the entire team started playing lackadaisical did Niemi's play really start to faulter. Overall, it was not a strong start by the Finnish netminder, but it was not the key reason why the Sharks lost this game.
Despite the lackluster third period by the Sharks, it was not a game where the overall feeling at the end was negative. They came out and played hard in the first, fixing the most immediate problem from the game against Pittsburgh. The penalty kill, despite killing only 2/3 penalties, looked much improved. And that Pavelski goal was one of the prettiest plays you’ll ever see.
The "play the whole 60 minutes" thing is something the Sharks have traditionally had issues with, and the game definitely does not change that. The lack of pressure in the third period directly led to their loss, and is something they need to work on.