SAP CENTER – It’s safe to say the home jitters are over for the Sharks.
After a tepid start to the season at SAP Center for a team that typically dominates at home, the Sharks notched their sixth-straight win in front of their fans with a 2-0 shutout of the Predators Saturday night.
Despite peppering the Predators’ net with 34 shots, the Sharks could only muster one goal on Pekka Rinne (L, 19-6-1, 32-33 saves), until a late empty-netter. Rinne was phenomenal for Nashville, keeping his team in the game.
It was enough, however, as Antti Niemi (W, 12-7-3, 29-29 saves) stood tall for the Sharks on the other end, notching his 29th career shutout by standing his ground on three Nashville power plays.
The Predators outshot the Sharks 17-5 in the third period, but an empty-net goal by Joe Thornton concluded matters.
Said Thornton on facing Rinne and Niemi’s performance:
“Playing against a guy like that – if you get one, that might be it. We really crunched down defensively and when Nemo was called to make some big saves, he was there.”
The Sharks jumped on the Predators early. After almost scoring on a previous shift, Tomas Hertl recorded his seventh goal of the season five minutes into the period. Hertl drove to the net and was rewarded when he scored off two rebound chances generated from a shot by Joe Pavelski.
Pavelski was pleased with his team’s start:
“The last few starts have been really good and where we are used to being. We were ready to go. We knew they were a good team — good goalie, good defense, they don’t give up much, their transition game is good. Those were things we talked about early, and we handled them as the game went on.”
San Jose outshot Nashville 18-7 in the first and killed off two minor penalties. Things got a little feisty late in the period when Tommy Wingels and James Neal got into a scrap. Shea Weber threw his body around for the Predators with several questionable hits, drawing the ire of the fans.
The Sharks’ dominance continued in the second period, but Rinne was sharper. He denied Pavelski twice from point blank on a power play, and then at the 6:03 mark, Rinne stymied Scott Hannan and Patrick Marleau at the side of the net after a tremendous pass from Thornton in front.
Rinne also stopped a wrist shot from Logan Couture on a 2-on-1 break late in the third to keep the deficit at one, but it was Niemi who was able to keep the Predators off the board entirely.
Said head coach Todd McLellan on Niemi, who made his first start in three games tonight:
“He was really sharp when he needed to be. His week hasn’t been easy. He gets injured, misses some starts and comes into a game like that and doesn’t get tested until the third period. He was able to stay in it mentally and physically. He made some saves in the third when we needed it.”
With the win, the Sharks have 38 points and jump into third in the Pacific Division, leapfrogging Calgary and solidifying themselves in the playoff picture after a rough stretch.
McLellan agreed when asked if his team was playing the best hockey of the season:
“The record would indicate that, but I think you’ve got look beyond that. You’ve got look at the little things we’re trying to accomplish and I would say we probably are [playing our best hockey]. We’ve just played seven games in 12 nights, which isn’t an easy task, but we were able to play four good lines in almost every game.”
The Sharks have won seven of eight games overall in addition to six straight at home. … The Predators were 7-1-1 in the last nine games against the Sharks coming into tonight, and Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne was 4-1-1 with a 1.44 GAA against the Sharks. …With a goal and an assist, Joe Thornton has 53 points in 43 games against Nashville. … Marc-Edouard Vlasic returned to the lineup after missing last game with an upper-body injury. … Mirco Mueller, Matt Irwin, and John Scott were scratched…Attendance tonight was 17,059 at SAP Center.