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


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


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.

Three takeaways: Tierney takes over; Sharks finally score first

Three takeaways: Tierney takes over; Sharks finally score first

SAN JOSE – In desperate need of a win and without arguably their best forward over the past two months, the Sharks found a way to get past the New York Rangers, 5-4, in what was – from a purely entertainment standpoint – one of the best games of the season. Let’s dig a little deeper on what is a much happier morning in Sharks-land with our three takeaways…

1 – Tierney takes over

While several of the Sharks depth players contributed, no one was better than fourth line center Chris Tierney, who had a pair of goals, a plus-three rating, and five shots (tied with David Schlemko for the team lead).

His game-tying goal late in the third period was huge, and he credited Jannik Hansen getting him the puck, as Hansen made a slick play on the Mikkel Boedker rebound. Interestingly, Pete DeBoer put those three players out as a line for the first time that night, with less than three minutes to go in regulation.

"I think it was Jannik who made the play. It was a great play,” Tierney said. “I was kind of just wide open. That's a pretty easy goal for me when he makes that play."

Tierney continues to be somewhat enigmatic. Every once in awhile he’ll have a dominant performance like this one (such as Feb. 2 in Vancouver), but then he’s invisible offensively for weeks at a time. To be fair, Tierney doesn’t always have the most highly skilled linemates while centering the fourth line, but when he puts up the kind of game like he did on Tuesday night it does make you wonder why it doesn’t happen more often.

Still, his game against the Rangers provides hope that he’ll be able to fill a void while Logan Couture is out, and we’ve already seen that Tierney can be a very effective player in the postseason, too.

2 – Getting one early

It’s hard to believe that the Sharks didn’t have a lead in a game before Tuesday since March 14 in Buffalo. After that game, which they came back to win fairly easily, they allowed the first goal in all six games of their losing streak and never recovered.

It was evident early that the Sharks were poised to end both their first-goal streak and their losing streak, as the first three shifts were all played in New York’s end. Hansen capped it off by swatting in a loose puck that Boedker had put on net.

“It was critical. I don’t think it was an accident our record over the last six or seven without scoring first,” DeBoer said. “Traditionally we’ve been pretty good in that area. But it’s slipped here in the last six or seven. We found a way tonight. I thought we played a great game.”

Joe Pavelski said: "It was nice coming out in the first and scoring first. It’s been awhile since we had a lead. So, that was good to see. I think everyone was encouraged by that start."

The Sharks improved to 32-9-1 when scoring first. They are 11-17-6 when allowing the opening score.

3 – Melk man delivers one

Is there a more overlooked player on the Sharks roster than Melker Karlsson? He’s not a flashy guy, of course, but Karlsson plays that north-south game that coaches love, and he’s a tenacious penalty killer, too. He now has 10 goals on the season, good for fifth on the team.

His shorthanded goal, on a two-on-one with Tierney, gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead just before the first intermission.

“They took away the pass to Tierns there,” Karlsson said. “I looked up a little bit, and it went in. Low blocker is usually a good shot.”

Karlsson was playing in his first game since missing the previous eight with a lower body injury. As one of those depth guys, is there more responsibility for him and others to help fill the void left by Couture?

“Yeah. We’ve always got to be there, but especially when Logan is out. He’s a big player for us,” Karlsson said.

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

Sharks' depth players, Burns, snap cold streaks just in time

SAN JOSE – For at least one night, the Sharks’ depth players – most of which have been missing in action for weeks – found the scoresheet against the Rangers in a 5-4 overtime win on Tuesday.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. 

The Sharks were playing their first of what will surely be at least a few games without center Logan Couture, and are still in the hunt for a Pacific Division title with four of their six remaining games against Edmonton and Calgary – teams they are trying to fend off to earn home ice in the first round. And, of course, they ended a wretched six-game losing streak in which they never had a lead in any of the defeats.

Coach Pete DeBoer mentioned earlier in the week that the coaching staff had challenged the depth players to do more, especially now that their second line center is out indefinitely. The response on Tuesday included two goals from Chris Tierney (including a late game-tying score), one goal and one assist from Jannik Hansen, a shorthanded goal by Melker Karlsson, two assists from Mikkel Boedker, and an assist from Tomas Hertl.

Consider the challenge met.

“We want to score. All the depth guys know, and talked about stepping up,” Tierney said. “It's good that we broke through tonight, especially with Logan out of the lineup. We're going to have to keep doing it throughout the playoffs."

DeBoer said the internal challenge “didn’t involve much more than just ‘Hey, we need some contributions from you.’ We can’t always look to the big guys to get the job done. We got that tonight. Those guys got on the board. It’s never a lack of effort with that group, but we’re the sum of our parts. We need those guys to get on the board for us on a regular basis and they did that tonight.”

It was also surely welcomed that one of their big guys – perhaps their biggest – got the overtime winner. Brent Burns had been mired in a 16-game drought without a goal, but his slap shot got through Henrik Lundqvist half-a-minute into an overtime power play.

While the depth guys will need to continue to produce, the Sharks are going to need more from Burns, too, as the postseason approaches. The defenseman had been kept off of the scoresheet in nine of 10 games from March 5 – 21, but now has one point in each of his last three games. That’s a good sign.

Getting a goal was particularly nice, as was ending the losing skid.

“Yeah on both accounts,” Burns said. “That was a big win, especially coming back, staying resilient, getting that big goal there at the end.”

Still, with all that went right, the game was far from perfect. The Sharks allowed a 3-1 second period lead to turn into a 4-3 deficit in just a span of five minutes and seven seconds, indicating they’re still a bit fragile. Derek Stepan made it 3-2 late in the second with a power play goal, Jesper Fast scored on a deflection early in the third, and J.T. Miller gave New York its first lead of the night less than five minutes into the final frame.

“There’s still room for improvement, definitely,” Joe Pavelski said.

Still, the Sharks fought back for Tierney’s late game-tying goal with less than two minutes in regulation, setting up Burns’ overtime heroics. 

The captain sensed some displeasure from the home fans due to the blown lead, something he surely understood, but indicated that the energy level on the Sharks’ bench was still high.

“Whether you think, like, ‘Here we go again’ or not – I’m sure someone in this building thought that tonight,” Pavelski said. “Guys just kind of stuck with it, and we believed we would tie it up tonight.”

Getting that extra point in overtime brought a sense of relief.

“When you lose six straight, it's obviously a relief when you win one,” Martin Jones said. “But win or lose, we played a lot better tonight.”