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Sharks blown out by Predators despite improved neutral zone attack

There were a surprising number of positives for the Sharks considering the final score, but at the end of the day this team needs standings points right now.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This one felt like a playoff game.

Not because it was particularly competitive, as the game was effectively over when Paul Gaustad scored less than two minutes into the second period to give the Predators a 4-1 lead. Not because it was overtly physical, as the teams combined for just 36 hits. And not because the crowd was especially boisterous as an ice storm severely limited attendance in Nashville.

No, this was a quintessentially Sharks playoff-like atmosphere in that San Jose significantly outplayed a great hockey team only to be done in by excellent goaltending at one end of the ice coupled with terrible netminding and defensive miscues at their own. It's a script permanently etched into every Sharks fan's memory at this point: Sharks outshoot and outchance team in huge game, opposing goalie stands on his head while San Jose's goaltender looks leaky.

Luckily this game doesn't put the Sharks behind the eight-ball in a playoff series like so many of these types of games have over the years, though it does move them ever closer to being outside the postseason picture in the Western Conference. So let's take a moment to focus on the positives, of which there are surprisingly many for a 5-1 loss in a game the Sharks really needed to win.

Perhaps by coaching edict, or perhaps by a frustration with being unable to score at 5-on-5, this looked like an entirely different Sharks team in the neutral zone and in a very, very good way. Usually content to dump the puck in and set up their 2-1-2 forecheck, San Jose was making a concerted effort to look for east-west passing plays in middle ice and it allowed them to enter the offensive zone with control of the puck on two-thirds of their attempts through two periods, way above their season average.

That new-look offensive attack led directly to Matt Irwin's game-opening goal as well as several other ten-bell chances including a 2-on-1 for Chris Tierney and Tomas Hertl and a pair of golden opportunities for Matt Nieto. If the Sharks play like this more often they'll score far more even-strength goals, especially since few other goalies (make that no other goalies in this conference) are as good as Pekka Rinne. But Rinne is who they drew tonight and the results were ugly. Sadly, that's all that really matters for the Sharks right now as they hang on to the final wild card spot for dear life.

[Fancy Stats] - [Predators Reaction]
[Event Summary] - [PBP Log] - [TOI Log] - [Faceoff Report]

  • Stalock is now down to a .897 SV% this season after posting a career .907 over around 4000 AHL shots faced. Sure, only playing once every three weeks might be having an effect on his game but it's clear based on his body of work in the minors that his numbers this year are more indicative of his true goaltending talent than his numbers last season.
  • Bottom line: if the Sharks go into 2015-16 with Stalock as their undisputed starter, they're very likely throwing that season away. Just look at what Darcy Kuemper did to an otherwise good Minnesota team this year. As Jake Barrow tweeted, I'd say "I told you so" with regards to Stalock not being a good NHL goalie but it's very bad news for the Sharks that that's the case.
  • The Couture line was unsurprisingly the Sharks' best when given free rein to make lateral plays in the neutral zone to gain the blueline rather than getting it deep as much as possible. They were the Sharks' best unit by a mile in the first three games of last spring's series against L.A. when San Jose used a similar strategy to exploit some of the Kings' lead-footed defensemen.
  • Good to see Tyler Kennedy back in the lineup, who the Sharks should really be trying to re-sign on the cheap rather than trade for peanuts at the deadline. They won't do that, because they have no idea how to assemble a good bottom six, but at any rate Kennedy was a big part of an extremely effective fourth line for the Sharks that combined for eleven shot attempts in limited minutes.
  • One of the faceoffs to start a Sharks power play in this game was in the neutral zone because Scott Hannan managed to ice the puck on a delayed penalty. Always using his veteran presence to make smart plays under pressure, that Hannan.
FTF Three Stars

1st Star: Pekka Rinne
2nd Star: Craig Smith
3rd Star: Shea Weber