Quick Bites: Despite improvement, Sharks fall to Predators

There are reasons for optimism, even amid four-game skid.

The San Jose Sharks had arguably their best start to any game this season last night. It didn’t matter. The Nashville Predators spoiled the visitors’ strongish start after Kevin Labanc gave up in the defensive zone and Roman Josi opened his scoring account with a frozen rope into the top corner. After that, it was mostly more of the same from the Sharks. Despite the strong start, the Sharks were outshot in the first frame by two at 5-on-5 and four at all strengths.

In a positive note, the power play looked feisty, moving the puck well, even if it didn’t send any rubber Pekka Rinne’s way. No matter. You could hear the Sharks collective fandom groan as Josi pocketed his second goal partway through the second period. After a lengthy Nashville power play that consumed ice with shots from the slot, the Preds’ captain sent the teal bench into a familiar stupor.

Whether the minutes that followed were the result of a turtling home team or a Sharks squad that finally started rounding into form, San Jose took over the remainder of the period. By the time all was said and done at the second buzzer, the Sharks had taken 75 percent of the period’s score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 shots and collected 83 percent of such expected goals (Natural Stat Trick). Evander Kane added a power play marker, and the Sharks closed out the second frame looking much more like the team we’ve been used to watching the last few years.

This response was not just a barrage of meaningless shots, either. San Jose peppered the Predators’ net from in close and kept their hosts at bay.

In what may be a sign that rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated, Joe Thornton and linemates Lukas Radil and Melker Karlsson paved the way for the Sharks yet again. With those three on the ice, the Sharks enjoyed a 5-on-5 shot share ratio 21 percent better than the rest of the team. They, and Timo Meier, Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc also helped the Sharks generate more dangerous shots than their opponents.

Though the final period was also a strong San Jose frame, the 18-shot second was really the team’s best effort on the evening. Still, the Sharks managed 10 shots on net over the last 20 minutes, though their 6-on-5 play to close the game out wasn’t exactly running precisely.

Something else wasn’t working as planned, either:

Amid all the uproar over the Sharks’ forward corps and Patrick Marleau is the fact everyone seems to have lost sight at what may just be the team’s greatest weakness. Expecting Martin Jones to rebound somewhat this season is a reasonable aspiration. Expecting him to be above average, however, seems an utter moon shot. As long as Martin Jones isn’t able to hold up his end of the bargain, it’ll be difficult to win whether the Sharks take 13 shots or 30.

Aside from the goaltending and some poor individual performances, the Sharks should hope to build off of this game. The on-ice results (except for the goals) were by far the team’s best effort of the season against a solid Nashville team. Evander Kane represents the impact of a true top-six forward replacing what had so far been closer to replacement-level talent. His reintroduction to the lineup, coupled with the first bit of gelling we’ve seen the team do on the ice, should help right the ship somewhat.

This team isn’t the same unit that went to last year’s Western Conference Final, but it’s not the team that got handled by Vegas earlier this season, either.