SAN JOSE – Marty Havlat wouldn’t admit he was irritated after he left an easy tap-in goal on the board in the second period. His head coach, though, said the frustration was evident on the winger’s face after Havlat could have easily broken a scoreless tie midway through regulation.
Either way, no one was blaming Havlat for celebrating early when Ryane Clowe’s shot hit the post and was sitting behind goaltender Pekka Rinne. Havlat could have simply pushed it over the line, but instead raised his arms, thinking it had already counted. Rinne recovered, and froze the puck.
Havlat redeemed himself with a beautiful, game-tying backhander late in the third period, as the Sharks salvaged a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to the grinding Nashville Predators. San Jose fell to 7-0-1, and ended its six-game homestand with 11 of a possible 12 points. The Sharks were the final team in the NHL to suffer a defeat.
[KURZ: Instant Replay -- Predators 2, Sharks 1 (SO)]
“He was as frustrated as anybody when he came back to the bench. He knew exactly what happened and the opportunity that was lost there. But when we needed a big goal from him, he was there,” McLellan said. “It was nice to see that second power play unit contribute, something they hadn’t done and they were due. It was a big goal for them to at least get us a point.”
Clowe said: “It wasn’t Marty’s fault. He thought I scored. After I shot it, I couldn’t see it. I shot through a screen, so I thought it went in as well. So did Marty. It’s just one of those things.”
It was the third straight shootout game for the Sharks, who remain atop the NHL standings (in terms of winning percentage). San Jose and Chicago (7-0-2) are the only teams that have not yet dropped a game in regulation.
Craig Smith was the only one of five shooters to convert in the shootout, when he faked out Antti Niemi.
“He had lots of speed, and I think I got caught with that a little bit,” Niemi said.
The game was played in the typical Nashville style – a tight-checking, defensive affair in which scoring chances were at a premium. It didn’t help that both the Sharks and Predators power play units were relatively ineffective before Havlat’s goal.
The highlight for the capacity crowd, other than the goal, was a fantastic effort by the Sharks’ penalty kill with Havlat off on a hooking call in overtime. Douglas Murray and Brad Stuart blocked shots from the point, while Niemi turned aside Shea Weber’s blast from the high slot. It was their 21st straight kill.
Just before the Havlat penalty, Niemi made the save of the game on David Legwand in front of the net, sticking out his left toe to deflect the puck towards the corner.
“We were expecting the way they were playing. They have one of the best goalies in the league, and Nemo was awesome, too, again tonight,” Havlat said. “He’s keeping us in a lot of games lately.”
The Sharks’ most effective line at even strength was the Clowe, Logan Couture and James Sheppard trio. They combined for 10 of San Jose’s 27 shots, including seven from Clowe.
Sheppard, in particular, has had two effective games since he was re-inserted back into the lineup before Thursday’s game in Edmonton, even though he has yet to find the scoresheet.
“The more minutes he’s getting, the more comfortable he’s looking,” Clowe said. “He had a good game tonight. He showed his size and ability to protect the puck. He’s a strong boy. As he plays more, you’ll notice him more. Very strong on his skates, and has a real good shot. Once he gets a little more comfortable and a little more confident, he’ll help us.”
The game also featured the return of defenseman Jason Demers, who missed the start of the season with a fractured wrist. Demers played 18:48 and was on the ice for Havlat’s goal.
“Good first night for him,” McLellan said. “It can’t be easy coming into that type of game that fast game, that tight-checking game. For night number one, and considering how long it’s been since he played, I thought he did well.”
Demers said: “It was a good feeling. It felt good to be back and play with the guys. Obviously we didn’t get the win, but it was good to get back in the mix.”
The Sharks will now take their show on the road for seven of the next nine games, beginning in Anaheim on Monday.
After five relatively pain-free wins to the start the season, games have gotten a whole lot more competitive. As the battle for points in this shortened season becomes more and more heated, that’s probably something that the Sharks should get used to.
“It’s important to stay patient. Not every night it’s going to go everything your way," Havlat said, perhaps referring to his own up-and-down night. "We have to play until the last second, last minute of last shift. We came back, and at least we have a point tonight.”
“You can’t ask for much more than that – a 5-0-1 homestand. It will be nice to take it on the road,” Clowe said.