SAN JOSE – The NHL season ends in exactly four weeks, so get used to hearing the D-word quite often between now and then.
The scuffling Predators, badly needing two points, had it in a 3-1 win on Saturday at SAP Center. The Sharks didn’t play poorly, but didn’t have enough of it from start to finish.
“These are desperate teams we’re playing,” coach Pete DeBoer said. The Predators had lost four in a row, “and they’re fighting for their life and a playoff position. We have to make sure that we get our desperation level to an equivalent spot.”
Brenden Dillon said: “We knew they were going to come flying, they’re a desperate team this time of year. They need every point. I think for us, we just kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit at certain times of the game, and they were able to capitalize.”
The Sharks, unlike the Predators, don’t have to worry about falling out of playoff position. They still enjoy a seven-point lead in the Pacific Division with a game in hand on second place Anaheim, even after Saturday’s defeat. Still, they’d like to make a push for the first overall spot in the conference, assuring home ice advantage for a potential Western Conference Final. They remain five points behind Minnesota and two behind Chicago.
For that to happen, they’ll have to match the intensity of their opponent more than they did against the Predators. Their start was strong, and so were the first few shifts of the second period of a 1-1 game, but Nashville outskated them after that.
The game-winner came when an aggressive Colin Wilson tracked down Dylan DeMelo on the forecheck, and lifted the Sharks defenseman's stick up before seizing the puck below the goal line. Wilson quickly found James Neal in front of the net to put the Predators ahead for good midway through regulation.
“Just got a piece of my stick, either just whacked it or a little tug or something,” DeMelo said. “Just tried to make a play, and he just got enough of my stick that it took some speed off the pass.”
DeBoer said: “[Wilson] made a good play on him and stripped him. Those things happen. [DeMelo] has played some real good hockey for us. That’s not why we lost the game.”
The lack of desperation continued to show in the third period on a pair of power plays that’s weren’t very effective. When Neal went off for slashing with two-and-a-half minutes left in regulation, the Sharks never came close to tying it, even after Martin Jones was pulled for an extra attacker. Viktor Arvidsson's shorthanded, emtpy-net goal capped the scoring.
San Jose was also smoked in the faceoff circle, losing 64 percent of the draws. That’s typically a reflection of how hard the two teams are competing.
“Definitely it can play a factor in the game,” Joe Pavelski said. “We got our first goal off a faceoff.”
Still, the Sharks won’t leave SAP Center hanging their heads too low. The loss was just their second in regulation defeat in the last 11 games, and they’ll get a chance to respond right away on Sunday against a Dallas team that is already out of playoff contention. Saturday’s result was even a little predictable, after Thursday’s thrilling triumph over league-leading Washington.
There are more games coming, though, against teams that will surely bring that playoff-type intensity.
DeBoer said: “You’re got to play 60 minutes the right way this time of year in order to win games, otherwise you’re leaving it to chance. I think that’s what we did tonight, we left it to chance, and it’s not good enough.”