Sharks blow late third period lead against Nashville Predators, allow pair of goals in final minutes in 3-2 loss
San Jose head coach Todd McLellan blasted his team after a late third period collapse allowed the Nashville Predators to tie, and then earn a 3-2 win over the Sharks on Wednesday night. “Absolutely unacceptable,” McLellan said in a post-game press conference. “It is called game management, and it was poor.” Belarusian left winger Sergei Kostitsyn and former Boston University center Colin Wilson capitalized on critical defensive zone lapses in the final four minutes of the third period.
The Sharks were 11-0-2 carrying a lead into the final 20 minutes of play before Wednesday night. In what had been at times a slow and plodding pace, San Jose edged out a two goal lead on an enormous first period slapshot by Niclas Wallin, and a quick give-and-go at the side of the net between Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton in the second. Heatley’s 14th goal of the season came on the power play, puncturing a penalty kill that had stopped 45-of-46 previous man advantages.
Every shift is critical in the NHL, and rookie defenseman Justin Braun learned that the hard way in the second period. Braun let up pursuing a Nashville dump into the corner, and a hard charging Jordan Tootoo prevented the Sharks defenseman from backhanding it off the boards to his defensive partner Wallin. With inside position on Braun, Tootoo took a hard stride towards the net, and backhanded a shot to the front of the crease. The puck deflected off of Scott Nichol’s stick and in.
Then came the third period. The Sharks are not a trapping team that sags back into the neutral zone and constricts opposing rushes up ice. They are a team built to take advantage of their size and speed, using that to produce a strong forecheck with aggressive puck pursuit. When it is on, it can stack up on teams and the Sharks offense can put them behind the 8-ball in the blink of an eye. When it is not clicking at 100%, there are gaps in coverage, turnovers that lead to odd-man rushes, and too much room allowed for opponents to generate an attack. At times over the course of a game, and even over the course of a period, it appears as if someone is flicking the switch on and off repeatedly.
The Predators have been streaking of late. Injuries have sidelined key forwards David Legwand and Matthew Lombardi, Patric Hornqvist was also a surprise scratch on Wednesday, but that has not kept Nashville from winning 7 of its last 8 games. When starting goaltender Pekka Rinne injured a knee in a December 1st shootout, 6-foot-6, 203-pound rookie Anders Lindback stepped in and raised the bar even higher. The Swedish native helped the Predators earn points in 6 straight starts, and prior to Wednesday night he earned back-to-back shutouts against Florida and the Islanders stopping 50 of 50 shots against.
The Predators comeback came just before the end of regulation. After a pair of San Jose Sharks nearly intercepted a long cross ice pass in the neutral zone, perennial allstar Shea Weber carried the puck down the right wing. Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic played off him, and Weber drove down to the goal line and hit a driving Sergei Kostitsyn in the slot. Boyle recognized Kostitsyn’s drive late, and could not take out his stick on the play. “That wan’t the one that bothered me,” San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan noted. “They made a good play. We weren’t stong enough on the stick.”
The play that broke the Sharks back happened less than a minute later. Second year defenseman Jason Demers stepped up on former Shark Marcel Goc to keep the puck in at the point. With several Sharks collapsing on the Nashville net after a Marc-Edouard Vlasic point shot, Goc tipped the puck around Demers into an empty neutral zone. Steve Sullivan, Kevin Kline and Colin Wilson broke down the ice on Vlasic 3-on-1. Vlasic did not challenge the shooter or stop Sullivan’s pass across the crease. Instead, Sullivan lifted the puck over Vlasic, and Wilson punched home the 1-timer over the outstretched glove of Antti Niemi.
“We should have enough poise, enough composure to manage the game properly to get into overtime, and then see what happens,” head coach Todd McLellan reiterated. “Unacceptable.”
On the recent 5-game road trip, the Sharks head coach noted that when playing with three young defenseman in the lineup, dealing with the occasional mistake was built in to the gameplan. After the poor decision on the late third period play by Demers, there may be some accountability as a result of the lack of situational awareness. San Jose Mercury News beat writer David Pollak noted that McLellan was as angry as he has heard him all season after the game. Veteran defenseman Kent Huskins is close to returning to the lineup from an undisclosed upper body injury, and he is traveling with the team on the 3 game in 4 day road trip.
“They have a great team, and that was a really fast-paced game, I think to get those two quick goals was great for our team and great for our team confidence,” Colin Wilson told the Nashville Tennessean. Nashville has lost to the Sharks in the opening round of the playoffs twice in 2006 and 2007. Along with a pair of opening round exits to the Detroit Red Wings, and last year’s Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks with Antti Niemi at the helm, the Preds have caught very few postseason breaks. There is no cushion to be had in a tight Western Conference playoff race, but Nashville is battling to improve its position and they could have the team to win more than one playoff round this season. Wednesday’s win over San Jose was a statement game for them.
There was a mix of good and bad as the Sharks built up a 2-1 lead over two periods. In his 4th consecutive start, Antti Niemi was again very solid, covering a large portion of the net down low off his knees. David Pollak asked Niemi about the final two goals against. On the game winner, Niemi noted that he was too far out in the crease, increasing the distance he would have to cover for Wilson’s 1-timer. “The last one, I was maybe a little too far out when they first got the puck so I had a longer way to get to the back post,” Niemi told Pollak. There have been quite a few NHL analyst describing a trend for NHL goaltenders moving from an “outside in” positioning to more of an “inside out” style. Outside in = heels outside of the blue goalie crease, move back in with shooter. Inside out = deeper in net, blue paint in front of goalie, move out towards shooter. Farther out of the crease cuts down on shooting angles, but increases the distance a goaltender needs to travel post-to-post (often using a t-push). Niemi has been fine tuning his game over the course of the season to date, and more importantly for Sharks fans he has shown confidence, and incremental improvement with a purpose. With a back-to-back game against Dallas tonight, Antero Niittymaki may see his first start since December 8th.
Devin Setoguchi returned to the lineup after missing 9 games, and skated on a line with Joe Pavelski and Jamie McGinn (tried to preview lines twice on twitter and mangled them both, thanks Sharks-in-game for the correct ones). McLellan noted before the game that Setoguchi did not have to play a mistake-free game after missing so much time, but that he did want to see emotion and energy. Setoguchi delivered. In 12:54 of ice time he registered 3 shots (only 1 on goal) and 1 hit, but he created several opportunities for his linemates. #16 out battled Predators defenseman Francis “Cube” Bouillon in the 2nd period for a puck in the corner. Setoguchi then spun off contact, sent a pass in front of the net with Pavelski and McGinn driving, then drove the net himself. In the third period with his linemates in the corner, it was Setoguchi battling for position in front of Lindback. Also notable was Patrick Marleau on the penalty kill battling 1-on-2 for position along the end boards. Marleau refused to give up possession of the puck, and ticked off 15 seconds of the Predators power play by his hard work along the boards. In his last 2 games, Marleau only has 1 assist, 8 shots and 2 hits, but he is doing a lot of the little things right and showing the effort needed to make a turnaround.
In the negative column, defenseman Dan Boyle did not make a good enough play on Kostitsyn on the game tying goal, but earlier in the period he waived his stick at Joel Ward as the Predators right wing drove down the left wing. Douglas Murray missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. John McCarthy and Kent Huskins were also scratches for San Jose. David Legwand, Patric Hornqvist and Alexander Sulzer were scratches for Nashville. Raw game highlight video (no announcers) and Todd McLellan’s postgame comments are available via Comcast Sportsnet California.
[Update] Predators provide late-game thrills with 3-2 comeback win over San Jose – Dirk Hoag for On the Forecheck.
The Corsi numbers below are pretty interesting, in that I think it reflects the Sharks perhaps letting off the gas as they tried to protect that 2-1 lead in the third. The Predators really tipped the ice, outshooting San Jose 15-8 in the final period.
[Update2] Postgame Ponderings – for the Predators Insider.
The most important play of the game was not either of the late goals. It was a play made by J.P. Dumont near the end of the second period. San Jose forward Logan Couture had been sprung on a breakaway. The Sharks held a 2-1 lead at that point and if Couture had scored, San Jose would have grabbed a momentum building two-goal advantage heading into the locker room. But Dumont saved a potential goal on the backcheck and knocked the puck away from Couture. Dumont’s game has picked up tremendously since he scored the eventual game-winner against Detroit a week ago. He’s not exactly known for his defense, but that was a game-saving play.
[Update3] Reversed the inside out and outside in descriptions. They have been corrected.