The Nashville Predators had the best record on the 2014-15 NHL season coming into their game Tuesday, Feb. 17. The San Jose Sharks came calling with a 2-4-2 record this month, so a loss was maybe to be expected.
The return of Justin Braun meant San Jose finally saw its two best defenders together on the ice again, but the defensive breakdowns continued. This team has now allowed four goals in six of nine games this month and three in one other. Then again, this game was decided once Pekka Rinne found the zone.
The Sharks actually played well outside of a couple mistakes and had the edge in most event summary categories. Ironically losing only the faceoff battle they came into the game with such an edge in thus far in the 2014-15 NHL season (34-26), they got six of those back via turnover margin (9-11 in giveaways and 8-4 in takeaways), were even in hits (18), attempted 13 more shots (72-59) and got six more on net (43-37) yet even managed to block one more (14-13).
Those number of shots were largely because a wide-open game was necessary for San Jose to score. After Melker Karlsson got the puck into the zone from Joe Pavelski and fed Matt Irwin behind the defenders on the rush, the puck was deposited in the corner before the first television timeout.
For the remaining 54:34, Rinne was simply not going to be beat. He turned away at least half a dozen fantastic scoring chances and 38 more shots overall to finish with 42 saves and lead the pictured Nashville stars.
About eight minutes after Irwin’s score, Mike Fisher fed Shea Weber for a blast through traffic to tie the score. A little over two minutes later, Mike Ribeiro fed Mattias Ekholm for a wrist-shot attempt that Alex Stalock saved. He could not stop Craig Smith from giving the Predators the lead for good by putting home the rebound.
The game remained competitive and lively until intermission. It got away from the Sharks in the opening 103 seconds that followed.
In the final 30 seconds of a power play that began in the first period, Colin Wilson knocked a Seth Jones rebound indirectly to Smith to put home again for his second goal in a row. Fifty seconds later, Nashville put the game out of reach when Gabriel Bourque got the puck from Weber in the right-wing circle and found an unguarded Paul Gaustad to feed on the other side of the slot.
For good measure, the Predators added another when Ribeiro fed James Neal on the rush. Stalock had moved into place but did not properly set to close off the five-hole fifth goal.
San Jose kept battling, getting a couple great chances in the final minutes. Play-by-play announcer Randy Hahn finally exclaimed, “Enough already!” regarding Rinne’s play with about five minutes left.
However, the Sharks needs points more than effort with just over a quarter of the 2014-15 NHL season remaining. The loss drops them to the 10th-best record in the Western Conference and they should be considered in fifth place in the Pacific Division, half a game behind the Los Angeles Kings (two points ahead with three more games played).
Could the 2014-15 NHL season’s completion mark the first in 12 years San Jose misses the Stanley Cup playoffs? If opponents keep scoring four goals on this team, there is no doubt the postseason streak ends.