Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sharks Outwork the Predators for a 2-1 OT Win

The Nashville Predators learned a lesson about intensity- specifically maintaining intensity throughout a hockey game- as they fell to the San Jose Sharks in overtime by a margin of 2-1. With the win, both Nashville and San Jose have 68 points.

Nashville opened the game flying and tilted the ice in their favor. At the 10:34 mark of the first period, they had outshot the Sharks by an 8-1 margin and owned a 1-0 lead thanks to a Cody Franson wrist shot that found the back of the net at 6:48 of the period. The pressure that Nashville put on the Sharks defense was exceptional and generated many quality chances against Antti Niemi. Niemi was strong in net and made some good saves to keep the Predators off the board. He also had some help from the post as Marty Erat had a glorious scoring opportunity that hit the pipe and caromed harmlessly away.

By virtue of the Predators taking some penalties, including 26 seconds of a five on three, the Sharks narrowed the shot count to 14-12 by the end of the period. Pekka Rinne, Nashville netminder, was solid all night in net, making some key saves in the first. He was going to be tested as the game went on.

The shot totals were about to change, and not for the best for the Predators. More on that in a moment.

About those Nashville penalty killers: they were spectacular. They managed to kill off the 5 on 3 as well as three other penalties. Their work was exceptional tonight, holding the NHL's top power play unit off the board.

The ice would start to tilt in favor of the Sharks in the second period, as they outshot the Predators 16-10. It was obvious that the Sharks were ramping up the intensity. Unfortunately, the Predators didn't match the Sharks.

San Jose would crack the scoreboard at 9:13 of the second as Devin Setogouchi would drive the wing and fire a shot into a small space over Pekka Rinne's left shoulder. This was a goal scorer's goal, as Setogouchi found a small opening at the top of the net and buried the shot.

The third period was all San Jose, as they outshot the Predators 17-7. Nashville rarely challenged Niemi and most of their shots were routine. By contrast, the Sharks were firing pucks from all over the ice at Rinne. To be fair, the Nashville defense was forcing most of the shots outside and giving Rinne a clean look at the puck. The fact remains that San Jose had amped up the intensity, and Nashville did not, or could not match their effort.

Fortunately, the Predators managed to force overtime and pick up a precious point. Unfortunately, the trend of San Jose dictating play continued through the overtime, as the Sharks outshot the Predators 5-0. The game winner came on the fifth shot, as Patrick Marleau broke in alone on a breakaway and slid the puck through Rinne's five hole for the game winner at 3:53 of the extra period.

For the game, San Jose outshot Nashville 50-31.

Talk about intensity, or lack thereof, and it is summed up in the shot total.

This game serves as a lesson for the Predators, as it had a playoff feel. San Jose wanted to pass the Predators in the standings and wanted to make a statement in their last road game of a long road trip. They accomplished most of their goals as they dominated the Predators from the second period on. Frankly, the Predators are fortunate to be tied with the Sharks after the way they played tonight.

This game is indicative of the type of battle that the playoff games represent. However, they race in the Western Conference resembles a playoff battle right now. The games are intense. They are a war. And winners will match the intensity of their opponents and go beyond.

The Predators did not do that tonight.

In this contest, the Predators did not record their first shot on net in the third period until the 10:22 mark. Look boys, sitting back and being content to let your goalie make numerous saves, being content to just dump the puck out of your zone and forcing the opponent to regroup on the attack, and failing to generate offensive pressure is a formula for another first round exit in the playoffs.

The lesson from this is that these games in the Western Conference are going to be intense, they are going to be battles from here to the end of the regular season. And then they are going to get tougher in the playoffs.

Learn from this lesson. Learn that you have to match the opponents intensity. Learn that this is going to be tough. Learn these lesson and you will be fine.

Fail to do so, and it will be another painful learning experience.

My three stars:

1. Patrick Marleau

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Cody Franson

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