SAN JOSE — The HP Pavilion, or as Sharks fans have called it for years “The Shark Tank” has usually been a tough place to play, always near or at the top of the list for players when it comes to difficult arenas for road teams. But that hasn’t been the case lately as the Sharks have now lost three in a row overall and four straight on home ice.
Saturday night the Sharks dropped another one, this time at the hands of the streaking Nashville Predators.
Despite winning the shot total in convincing fashion, 43-26, and controlling the play for the majority of the evening, the Sharks could not find a way to get the goals when needed, falling to the Predators, 2-1.
Certainly the effort has improved over the last two games since Ryane Clowe’s explosive post-game comments but as for the continued poor results, the players seem to be running out of answers.
“I can’t explain why scoring has been down, five-on-five, I don’t know,” said defenseman Dan Boyle. “Pretty easy to say keep going, keep trying but [we got to] find a way, I don’t know, if it’s changing something individually….it’s not going in for a reason…I don’t know what the answer is.”
Logan Couture talked about just how frustrating the losses have been, especially on home ice.
“You lose three in a row at home, in this building, one of the toughest buildings for teams to come in to play, it’s just not right,” he said. “Fans are loud, it’s intimidating for the [opponents] when we score, embarrassing to lose three in a row at home.”
Going back to the last home-stand where the Sharks were trounced 4-0 by the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks have now lost four straight in front of the hometown fans, scoring just four goals over that span, not a recipe for success.
That said, early on against Nashville the Sharks were getting pucks to the net and controlling the play. Seven minutes in, the Sharks were outshooting the Preds 4-0, and by the 12:10 mark the shots were 10-4 in their favor. But just a minute later the shots were 10-9 and the Predators had opened the scoring.
Preds forward David Legwand scored off his own rebound after picking up a lose puck from a fallen Boyle in the Sharks’ zone. With Boyle out of position and none of the Sharks forwards backchecking to the net, Legwand had an easy time depositing his own rebound.
The Sharks would tie the score in the middle frame when Clowe made a nice steal in his own zone and head-manned a pass to Couture, springing a two-on-one rush the other way. Streaking up the left wing, Couture used Mayers as a decoy and fired a wicked wrister over the catching shoulder of Pekka Rinne, breaking a 109 minute scoring drought for team teal.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, it would be their lone goal in the period and on the night in which they dominated in terms of puck possession.
In the third, the sharks nearly doubled Nashville in shots, 14-8, but the Predators would get the only goal, again off a rebound from Antti Niemi. Patric Hornqvist’s point shot would be padded away by the Shark netminder but Jason Demers’ clearing attempt on the rebound was helped into his own goal by the force of Sergei Kostitsyn who was going hard to the net. Kostitsyn would get credit for the goal, his 11th on the season.
It may be easy to point out the mistakes on the two goals but on the other end, the Sharks didn’t seem to make Rinne’s job in net very difficult at all. Nashville’s netminder played tremendous in goal but many of his more difficult saves came without traffic in front of him. Through 40 minutes, an overwhelming majority of San Jose shots were one look opportunities with nobody in front of the net. Demers thought his squad was better in that area than past games but did add that they could be “a little hungrier on the second and third chances.”
While the concerns over effort have seemed to die down the last couple games, execution clearly still isn’t where it needs to be. Even with improved effort, players seem to be unanimous in saying that they can still be better around the net offensively. Yes, defensive net play has been an issue but good teams win games when they allow two goals or fewer.
Like Demers, Boyle and Clowe each mentioned needing to make it tougher on opposing goalies after the 3-0 loss to Buffalo two nights ago. Those second and third chances which Demers alluded too will only come with stronger play in front of the net, screening the opposing goaltender.
Once the Sharks make more of a commitment in that area, those second and third chances — which haven’t been there as of late — will come about with more frequency. It has to happen soon, however, as the Sharks find themselves out of the top eight in the Western Conference for the first time since the beginning of the season.
And with the tightness in the west this year, the ninth place spot isn’t safe from dropping further down in a hurry. The Kings and Blues sit 11th and 12th respectively but both are within two points of the Sharks with two games in hand.