After being one of the league’s top teams for most of the season, the Nashville Predators seem to be falling apart in the 11th hour. Their latest setback came in the form of a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi stopped all 35 Predators shots to earn his fifth shutout of the season. San Jose has gone 4-1 this month and Niemi has played a significant part in that with a 1.48 GAA and .956 save percentage in March.
Pekka Rinne was solid between the Predators’ pipes, but Tomas Hertl found the back of the net with the man advantage late in the second period to break the scoreless tie.
Tommy Wingels scored an empty-net goal to make it 2-0 with less than a minute left in regulation.
Between Winnipeg losing and Los Angeles winning tonight, the Sharks are now three points behind in the battle for the second Wild Card spot. Their journey to the playoffs is about to get even more challenging though as they’ll face Chicago on Saturday before beginning a seven-game road trip.
Nashville has now lost seven of its last eight games and the one exception was an overtime victory against the lowly Arizona Coyotes. Thanks to St. Louis’ victory tonight, Nashville is no longer in control of the Central Division’s top seed. Instead, if the playoffs were to start today, the slumping Predators would be up against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
As is the case with San Jose, the Predators schedule isn’t going to get any easier in the near future. They’ll complete their road trip with games against Los Angeles and Anaheim on Saturday and Sunday respectively before hosting the red hot Minnesota Wild Tuesday night.
Last year the Los Angeles Kings came back to eliminate the San Jose Sharks from the first round of the playoffs. Will this latest Kings surge cause the Sharks to start their offseason even earlier in 2015? That’s a real possibility, although the Sharks took the first step towards preventing that with their 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars tonight.
Even if we ignored the fact that the Kings won their last six games and claimed the second Wild Card spot from San Jose on Wednesday in the process, this would still be a critical win for the Sharks. The Dallas Stars are another threat in the battle for a postseason berth and San Jose has struggled lately with just two wins in its last nine contests coming into tonight’s game.
Under that backdrop, San Jose came out strong tonight. Marc-Edouard Vlasic established the Sharks’ lead just 3:24 minutes into the contest and from there they maintained their edge all game. Although the Dallas Stars did make things interesting when Erik Cole found the back of the net with 2:16 remaining in regulation time:
Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels each capitalized on the Stars’ empty net within 11 seconds of each other to squash Dallas’ hopes.
San Jose has regained possession of the second Wild Card spot with a two-point cushion, but the Sharks’ position is still far from ideal as they’ve played in three more games than Los Angeles.
They’ll have a chance to build upon that tenuous edge on Saturday though when the Sharks host Los Angeles in an outdoor game at Levi’s Stadium.
Back from the brink, Kings still ‘have a lot of work left to do’
With just two wins in their last nine, the San Jose Sharks are shaking up their lines for tonight’s game in Dallas.
From CSN Bay Area:
Against the Stars, indications are Logan Couture will center Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels on the (top?) line, while Joe Thornton skates between Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson on another line. Tyler Kennedy will get bumped up to a third line role with center James Sheppard and Matt Nieto, while rookie Chris Tierney will be between Tomas Hertl and Andrew Desjardins on the fourth line.
Couture has spent most of the season skating with Marleau, while Thornton has most often been with Pavelski.
Of the four, it’s Marleau the Sharks could use more from. The 35-year-old has just 11 goals in 59 games. He finished last season with 33 goals.
Five-on-five, Marleau and Thornton haven’t skated regularly together since 2011-12.
Related: Sharks risking ‘national embarrassment’ in outdoor game: columnist
The NHL’s most unpredictable team will be back in action tonight when they visit the Coyotes in Arizona.
Bet on the result at your own peril, given this is how it’s gone the last 10 games for the San Jose Sharks:
The general rule it seems? Win the tough ones, lose the not-so-tough ones.
As a result, after earning one measly point in a three-game home stand in which the Sharks were favored all three times, their chances of making the playoffs have fallen to 59.1 percent, per Sports Club Stats.
It’s hard to explain why the Sharks have, for the most part, been successful against the good teams while suffering losses to the likes of Buffalo (twice), Edmonton (also twice), Columbus (again, twice), Carolina, and New Jersey. Logan Couture thinks it might have something to do with “youth.”
Whatever the reason, they know they need to figure it out.
“Enough is enough in terms of our inconsistent play. We can’t keep riding this roller coaster for the rest of the year,” forward Tommy Wingels said, per the Mercury News. “Before you know it, the season will be wasted away and we’ll look back on it and not be happy missing the playoffs. We’ve got to step it up and find a way to start winning consistently.”
It’s not all bad injury news for the San Jose Sharks. While they won’t have d-man Marc-Edouard Vlasic tonight against the Flames, at least key forward Tommy Wingels will be back.
Wingels has been activated from injured reserve after missing seven games with a broken hand. Versus Calgary, he’s expected to skate on the right side of a line with Tomas Hertl and Chris Tierney.
The Sharks, perhaps the most inconsistent team in the NHL this season, lost another winnable game Saturday at home to Carolina — just the latest defeat to a team that won’t be participating in the playoffs this spring.
Tonight, not only will the Sharks be looking for redemption for Saturday’s effort, they’ll be trying to avenge last week’s 3-1 loss to the Flames in Calgary.
“We’re an inconsistent team this year. We need to fix that going forward,” forward Logan Couture said, per CSN Bay Area.
“We’ve got a stretch run here. We’re going to need to win a lot of games to get into the playoffs.”