Niemi pulled early in Sharks' 6-2 loss to Predators

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Niemi pulled early in Sharks' 6-2 loss to Predators

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NASHVILLE For the first time since January 4, the Sharks will go to sleep without at least a share of the Pacific Division lead.The Sharks fell behind early and could never recover against Nashville, losing 6-2 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night. Shea Weber had two goals for the Predators.San Jose fell to 2-5-1 on its nine-game road trip, which mercifully ends on Sunday evening in Minnesota. Against the Predators, the Sharks had a relapse of miscues with the puck and suspect goaltending, which had plagued the team for the last three weeks before a 2-1 win in Toronto on Thursday. One game doesnt get you out of the woods, Patrick Marleau said.

The Phoenix Coyotes, 10-0-1 in the month of February, won earlier on Saturday and leapfrogged the Sharks for the division lead, although San Jose has two games in hand. The Sharks (32-21-7, 71 points) fell to seventh place in the Western Conference.Weve got to somehow come together because now were in the seventh spot, Joe Thornton said. You know, its just unacceptable right now.The Predators took advantage of a pair of odd-man rushes in quickly jumping out to a 2-0 lead.After a Colin White misplay at the offensive blue line, Colin Wilson converted a pass from Jordan Tootoo on a two-on-one just two minutes into the game.Thornton, Marleau and Joe Pavelski were all caught below the offensive goal line shortly after, resulting in a three-on-two that ended with Weber scoring the first of his two markers at 3:23. Nashville found the back of the net on its first two shots of the game.Two shots, two goals, two mistakes, game over. Pretty simple, Todd McLellan said.Bad mistakes at bad times. Im not sure why this late in the year mistakes like that happen, but weve got to start playing good hockey if we want to get into the party, Thornton said.McLellan called a timeout after the second goal, and was animated on the bench in instructing his team. What was the message?That we had to regroup. We had a whole night left and it was time for us to get the cobwebs out of our head, he said. It was already too late.Marleau brought the Sharks back to within a goal at 10:58 after a point shot by Pavelski rattled around the front of the crease. Pekka Rinne was caught out of position after a diving attempt to freeze the puck, but Marleau was there to flip in his 26th of the season.Kevin Kleins one-timer at 15:58, on a shot that probably should have been stopped by Niemi, gave the Predators a two-goal cushion back before the first intermission. Niemi was pulled in favor of Thomas Greiss at that point.I think I should be able to take some of those away and give us a chance early, Niemi said of the three goals he allowed.It was the second time in his last three starts that Niemi hasnt lasted the first period, but McLellan wasnt pinning the blame entirely on his goaltenders shoulders after defensive miscues led directly to the first two Preds goals.I didnt like our team early. Sometimes hes the victim of circumstances, McLellan said. Again, I didnt think he was the sharpest as hes been. We had to do something to shake it up, and I think Tommy went in and played well.It was the second time in three games that Greiss replaced Niemi, who has allowed 42 goals in his last 15 games, including three or more in a game 10 times.The Sharks trailed 3-1 after the first period, but Pavelski scored just 23 seconds after the opening faceoff in the second. Marleau made it happen with a great move in the corner before a backhanded feed to Pavelski in the circle.San Jose seized momentum with the goal and looked poised to tie it, but a Michal Handzus boarding call at 10:53 stopped that in its tracks. Webers rocket from the point on the ensuing power play appeared to deflect on its way past Greiss at 12:04, and Nashville was fortunate to escape the second period still up by two.You feel like you have the momentum at the start of the second, and it quickly goes away, Thornton said.The Sharks had some good chances in the third period, including a pair of power plays, but their red-hot unit failed to get the team back into the game. San Jose outshot the Predators 16-3 in the third period, and 34-21 for the game.Rinne finished with 32 saves in recording his league-leading 34th win.Marleau appeared to make it 4-3 midway through the third, but his goal was waved off after Pavelski and Rinne got their sticks tangled up in the crease.Pavelski said he didnt know if the call was right or wrong, but said: Its unfortunate because it would have definitely given us a little momentum, and a chance to tie it up.Martin Erats empty-net goal with two minutes left made it 5-2, and Nick Spaling scored with less than a minute left on a one-timer from the slot to cap the scoring.But, it was the first few minutes that sealed the Sharks fate well before that.It takes everybody to win in this league, and any shift could be the most important one, Marleau said.Odds and ends: The Predators are 9-0-3 in their last 12 home games. Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton all finished with two points apiece. San Jose was 0-for-3 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill. The Sharks won 36 of 62 faceoffs. ... Greiss stopped 11 of 13 Nashville shots.

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

Tierney, Sorensen among players qualified by Sharks

The Sharks have issued qualifying offers to restricted free agent forwards Chris Tierney, Marcus Sorensen and Barclay Goodrow, while cutting ties with three players in the system.

Tierney, 22, posted 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 80 games last season, serving primarily as the fourth line center. He has 64 points (24g, 40a) in 202 career games over three NHL seasons, all with the Sharks.

Sorensen posted one goal and three assists in 19 games with the Sharks last season, his first in the NHL. The 25-year-old played in all six playoff games against Edmonton, scoring one goal and one assist.

Goodrow, 24, skated in three games for the Sharks last season with one assist. He has 16 points (4g, 12a) in 77 games over three seasons with the Sharks, although has played in just 17 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Forward Nikita Jevpalovs, defenseman Patrick McNally and goalie Mantas Armalis - also known for his career as a male model - were left unqualified and are now unrestricted free agents.

Earlier in the offseason, the Sharks signed pending restricted free agents Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. Donskoi received a two-year deal at a salary cap hit of $1.9 million, while Karlsson was signed to a three-year deal at $2 million annually.

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Thornton, Marleau now permitted to speak with other teams

Their futures with the Sharks more uncertain than ever, pending unrestricted free agents Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are now free to take calls from other teams to gauge their potential interest.

Nothing can be signed with a new team before July 1, and there is a ban on discussing terms of any potential deal. Teams have already reached out to Marleau, per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, while Thornton is also reportedly receiving interest around the league.

While they could still return to the Sharks, it’s new territory for both, as neither Thornton nor Marleau has ever tested the unrestricted free agent waters. Most recently, they agreed to three-year contract extensions with the Sharks on the same day – Jan. 24, 2014 – in what was the final year of their current deals.

Whether they return to the Sharks could depend on the length of the deal. If other teams are willing to offer multiple-year deals to Thornton and Marleau, it makes their return to the Sharks less likely – particularly in Marleau’s case. Earlier in the offseason, NBC Sports California confirmed that Thornton was seeking a three-year deal, while Marleau preferred a deal of at least three years.

General manager Doug Wilson’s top priority this offseason is to re-sign goalie Martin Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long term extensions. Those contracts would likely cost the team a combined $12-14 million, and would begin in the 2018-19 season.

There is an added risk to any team that signs a player over the age of 35, as it would be on the hook for the entire salary cap hit regardless of whether that player is active (unless that player is on long-term injured reserve). 

Thornton turns 38 on Sunday, while Marleau turns 38 on Sep. 15.