The last time these two teams met this season, San Jose won 4-1. Their performance on the scoreboard, however, was undercut by their inability to generate any even-strength shots. The Sharks took just 40 percent of all score- and venue-adjusted shots in that game against a team missing Ryan Ellis and without its latest acquisition, Kyle Turris.
That evening, San Jose also iced one of the best centers to play the game during the past decade, as well as their shutdown third pair of Brenden Dillon and Tim Heed. The outcome of the teams’ first meeting was a microcosm of the team’s performance of late, just ahead of tonight’s contest.
Despite a 5-1 record over their past six games, San Jose had been taking just 49 percent of all shots in those games, and their performance in that regard buoyed somewhat by a strong performance against Arizona.
Though welcoming back Tomas Hertl and welcoming, for the first time, Eric Fehr, San Jose had their work cut out for them in a challenging road contest.
Despite the arrival of San Jose reinforcements, it took just two minutes for Nashville to score. A Roman Josi shot from the point bounced through a cavalcade of players before ricocheting off the wall to a waiting Nick Bonino who wrapped the puck around the net past Aaron Dell, who appeared to have lost track of the puck’s location.
With just more than half a minute left in the first period, Scott Hartnell added to Nashville’s lead, again showing Nashville’s forward depth.
Though a rather uneventful second period began the way forward for the game’s next stanza, San Jose took advantage of the listing period. A strong breakout from Justin Braun preceded a zone entry pass to Couture. The team’s leading scorer completed a give-and-go with Kevin Labanc along the boards before firing a puck that may very well have been aimed at Tomas Hertl toward the net. Pekka Rinne seemed also to expect the flying puck to head toward another Shark opponent, because the shot/pass bounced off Nashville’s goaltender and into the back of the net.
San Jose’s lead trimming did not continue. With just more than four minutes remaining in the second period, Kevin Fiala poke-checked the puck away from Brenden Dillon in the Sharks’ defensive zone before taking it the length of the ice and depositing it between Aaron Dell’s legs.
Despite continuing to build upon their shot advantage, San Jose was unable to tighten the score before the end of the period.
In fact, the Predators would add to their lead about one-quarter of the way through the third period. While on a power play, Viktor Arvidsson received a pass and turned quickly to grow the home team’s lead to 4-1. Just moments later, Ryan Johansen tacked on some insult the Sharks’ injury with Nashville’s fifth.
The rout continued as Matthias Ekholm knocked a puck home moments after Filip Forsberg skated out of the box, into a perfect pass and into the San Jose zone. It was as if the Predators were fighting a seasons-long demon in the game, because they poured on yet another goal with barely more than a minute remaining in the game.
After a strong performance in the first two periods, San Jose fell apart in the third. They took just 28 percent of the 5v5 shots (when adjusted for score and venue) and took just four 5v5 shots that were on frame. The game was an unsurprising result, given how the Sharks have played lately, even despite their winning ways. San Jose will have to make changes to its bottom two lines if it wants any chance at winning the majority of its games down the stretch. They are too top-heavy right now to compete with teams like Nashville that can roll three scoring lines night in and night out.
- The Predators’ third line of Scott Hartnell, Nick Bonino, and Calle Jarnkrok took advantage of San Jose’s weak third line. The trio lost their overall shot battle, but they took more shots on goal and scored three event-strength goals.
- Eric Fehr’s debut was rough. He spent just fewer than 11 minutes on the ice at 5v5. During that time, San Jose took just 38 percent of the score- and venue-adjusted shots, the third-worst differential on the Sharks.
- The Brenden Dillon — Dylan DeMelo pairing continued its mediocre play, collecting only about 36 percent of all shots while on the ice together. The pair has controlled more than 40 percent of all 5v5 shots just three times in their past seven games.
- Aaron Dell had a difficult night. His save percentage was three percentage points below what an average goalie would have offered with a similar workload (per Corsica.Hockey.)
- San Jose’s lucky streak finally stopped. They had been mostly outshot during their 5-1 run, and tonight was the culmination of that against a very good and deep Nashville team.