McLellan: 'Tonight was a good step forward'
Joe Pavelski scored his seventh goal of the season Saturday in the Sharks 2-1 win against the Nashville Predators. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
SAN JOSE – Dan Boyle didn’t care what was going on in front of the Nashville Predators’ net with the Sharks on a first period power play.
His one-time blast on a pass from Joe Thornton cut through the chilled air and hit nothing but the back of the net at 17:47, giving the Sharks a lead they would not relinquish against the Predators in a 2-1 win at HP Pavilion on Saturday night. Joe Pavelski set a perfect screen in front of big goaltender Pekka Rinne on the play, but Boyle didn’t know that as he was making contact with the puck.
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Instead, it was a good example of what the Sharks’ coaching staff has been stressing to its team through its recent losing ways – shoot, shoot, and shoot some more, regardless of what may or may not be happening in the opposing crease.
“I’m shooting the puck there. I’m just glad I got it through. It’s been tough this year getting the pucks through,” Boyle said of his first goal since San Jose’s second game of the season, in Edmonton on Jan. 22.
Todd McLellan said: “We played hard. But, that message has been there for five years, it’s just a matter of reminding them. The shooting part is great, it’s the re-attacking the net and getting to the blue paint, doing it over and over again.”
In fact, that’s what they did. The Sharks ended the night with 39 shots on Rinne, their third highest total of the season, even though only two made it past the star goalie. Pavelski’s second period power play goal was the game-winner in just the Sharks’ second regulation victory in the last 15 games.
San Jose had 16 shots in the first period, 14 in the second and nine in the third while nursing what was a 2-0 lead to start the final frame.
“If you get that many shots, you’re bound to score more goals,” Logan Couture said. “We had a lot of good looks, a lot of wraps and jams, which we wanted to going into tonight, and we want to build off of that. They are good defensive team and they have a great goalie. If we get 40 shots a night, I think we’re going to score more than two.”
“It’s great to get a lot of shots, but it’s not just going to go in on elite goaltenders like this,” Thornton said. “The first goal, Pavelski just made a great screen in front of Rinne, and that’s the reason it goes in. You can shoot all you want, but unless you have traffic on these goalies, it’s not going to go in.”
The power play, another weakness lately, converted twice for the first time in 15 games. Couture got the primary assist on Pavelski’s goal, battling behind the net and getting just enough of the puck to tip it out in front where Pavelski could lift it in. Rinne had no idea where it was until it was behind him at 9:12 of the second.
“Big night for him. Stepped up and showed his leadership skills,” McLellan said of Pavelski.
Although they didn’t score five-on-five, McLellan was pleased with the newly formed line of Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Tim Kennedy, which combined for 14 of the Sharks’ 39 shots. Kennedy and Marleau had a game-high five each.
“I really liked that line,” the head coach said. “I thought that Patty and TK gave Pav a lot of speed, and he was able to create with his skills. He was a real hungry player.”
On the other end, Antti Niemi was his same old steady self in making 18 saves to record his ninth win. He wasn’t tested often, but had some key stops, including a shorthanded breakaway by Martin Erat in the first period.
From his vantage point, Niemi, who started his eighth straight game, could see a different Sharks team at the other end of the ice.
“We decided before that we’re going to shoot the puck and be hungry going to their net. I think that’s exactly what we did,” he said.
It wasn’t a perfect effort, though. While the Sharks did pot a pair of goals with a man advantage, they allowed Nashville to get right back into the game with 5:30 left in regulation. On their fourth power play of the night with a chance to put the final nail in the Preds’ coffin, Matt Irwin let the puck get past him at the offensive blue line and Gabriel Bourque raced in shorthanded breakaway. He slid it past Niemi for his fifth goal.
The Erat breakaway in the first was the result of an apparent miscommunication between Irwin and Justin Braun in the offensive zone. That mistake didn’t cost them, but the second one did.
“Some of their best chances came on some miscues on our power play,” McLellan said. “A couple young players, but we’ll throw them right back out there and make sure that they’re better next time.”
Couture helped the Sharks preserve the lead in the final minute, and may have a couple more bruises because of it. With 18 seconds to go he blocked a Shea Weber shot with his wrist, and seven seconds later, dove in front of a Roman Josi blast that hit him in the top of the right foot.
“When you’re dying for a win, it’s really whatever it takes. I’m happy to block shots just as long as we win,” Couture said.
The Sharks finished 2-0-1 on their three-game homestand, and now face nine of their next 11 away from HP Pavilion, where they are just 3-5-1.
At 10-6-4, they sit in second place in the Pacific Division and fifth place in the tight Western Conference, and are eight points behind the Anaheim Ducks.
“Our last game of the homestand, we’ve got to climb our way back up in this thing,” Boyle said. “Anaheim is putting a pretty serious run here and they are starting to create some space. We need to get ourselves back into it.
“The energy just came from desperation, needing a win badly.”