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.

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

Bad offense, not bad officiating, is main culprit for Sharks' skid

For just the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks have lost consecutive games.

It’s the first time since the club opened the season 0-2, and were outscored 9-4. San Jose played much better in Thursday’s loss to Florida and Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Boston than they did to start the campaign, but have now been on the wrong side of four goal reviews.

The Sharks have lost each of the last two games by two goals, so there’s an understandable temptation to chalk these losses up to questionable officiating. Yet even if you disregard the notion that the officials got each call right (which they did), it’s one that must be resisted.

Their actual lack of offense, not a perceived lack of good officiating, is the main culprit behind the losing streak.

Timo Meier’s goal on Saturday stands as San Jose’s lone tally on this three-game homestand. It’s not for a lack of trying: The Sharks pumped 72 shots on net in the last two games, but could not solve Roberto Luongo or Anton Khudobin.

You can blame the officiating in San Jose’s last two losses all you want, but a good offensive team would have converted subsequent chances to make up for the goals taken off the board. The Sharks have not been a good offensive team this season, and could not make up for it.

San Jose’s inability to finish chances has been their main weakness all season, but they were still able to win games thanks to their defense and goaltending. The latter’s lapsed at times over the last two games, and the former let them down on Saturday when Aaron Dell allowed three goals on only 20 shots.

But that, as well as the discussion around the recent officiating, only serves to mask the Sharks’ real issue. San Jose just simply cannot score.

They’ve only scored on 7.41 percent of their shots this season, according to Natural Stat Trick, which is the third-worst rate in the league. There’s too much talent on the roster to expect that to continue all season, but the Sharks faltered offensively down the stretch last season, too.

Plus, they’re relying significantly on players on the wrong side of 30. Brent Burns, 32, hasn’t scored a goal, and Joe Pavelski, 33, is on pace to score fewer than 20 goals.

He hasn’t failed to reach that mark in a decade. At some point, it must be asked: are the Sharks just unlucky, or is age catching up to their star players?

The answer is probably a bit of both. How much of a role either factor has played is up for debate, but that either has led to San Jose’s failure to score goals is not.

Poor officiating is easier to diagnose than a poor offense, but it’s the latter, not the former, that’s responsible for the Sharks’ most recent skid.

Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be


Play of Jones, Khudobin this season proof of how fickle goaltending can be

Martin Jones was a Boston Bruin for less than a week.

The “Original Six” franchise acquired Jones from the Los Angeles Kings on June 26, 2015. Four days later, Jones was traded back into the Pacific Division, this time to Northern California.

The Sharks gave up a first round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly for Jones. It seemed like a fairly high price at the time, but it’s one San Jose was happy to pay: No goalie started more games than Jones over the last two seasons, and the team signed him to a five-year extension this summer.

The first Jones trade in 2015 set off a flood of goalie transactions, as five netminders were traded during Jones’ extremely brief Boston tenure. One of those was Anton Khudobin, who will start for the Bruins as Jones backs up Aaron Dell against  his “former team” on Saturday night.

Khudobin was traded from Carolina to Anaheim, where he started seven games before getting sent down to the AHL. He then signed with Boston in 2016, returning to his former club as the Bruins tried to fill the hole that trading Jones left behind entrenched starter Tuukka Rask.

Jones and Khudobin will have taken vastly different paths to their respective creases on Saturday night. The former enters the game as his club’s undisputed franchise goalie, and the latter the unheralded backup.

Naturally then, Khudobin’s been the better goaltender this season.

Among the 46 goalies that have played 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Khudobin’s .962 five-on-five save percentage was the best entering Saturday, according to Corsica.  So, too, is his .954 save percentage off of high-danger shots.

Jones, meanwhile, ranks 27th (.920) and 14th (.833) in those respective categories.

What does it all mean? For one, it’s early in the season, and the fact that Khudobin’s made seven fewer starts undoubtedly plays a role in his superior performance to Jones.

Mainly, it speaks to just how fickle goaltending can be.

The Bruins backup is arguably getting the nod Saturday night because of how bad the man ahead of him has been. Rask, once one of the league’s best goaltenders, has steadily declined over the last three years and reached a new low this season: This year, he’s 40th out of 46 qualifying goalies in five-on-five save percentage.

Jones has demonstrated this, too. He’s stopped a lower percentage of low-and-medium danger shots at even strength than the last two seasons, but has stopped a higher percentage of high-danger shots.

Plus, he’s played behind one of the league’s best penalty-killing teams after playing behind one of its worst last season, and has benefitted from a corresponding bump in his shorthanded save percentage.

So much of what a goalie does is out of their control. Yet who’s playing in front of them, what kind of shots they see, and how often they see those shots all can affect their performance.

Khudobin and Jones are living proof of that this season.