Programming note: Sharks-Predators coverage gets under way today at 7 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live, only Comcast SportsNet California. Stick around after the game for Sharks Postgame Live.
SAN JOSE -– Immediately after the Sharks’ most recent defeat on Thursday against Detroit, head coach Todd McLellan was annoyed with the team’s refusal to shoot the puck in prime scoring areas. Doug Wilson drove that point home on Friday, calling the Sharks a “pass-first team in a shoot-first league.”
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The message to change has presumably been delivered to the players from the coaching staff and management, but will it get through? A game on Saturday night against the Nashville Predators, one of the better defensive teams in the league, could provide the answer.
Joe Pavelski, who has just a goal and an assist in the last eight games, talked about the focus of getting the puck and more bodies to the net to get some of those ugly goals that have become necessary in today’s game.
“That’s how you score. We’re not scoring goals lately, so we’re not doing it. If we have done it, we haven’t done it good enough,” Pavelski said. “We’ve got to get there a little harder, a little faster, [with] a little more intensity, and hopefully we start.
“It’s amazing the amount of effort it takes just to get an extra goal or two. We’ve got to be willing to do it. If you’re not, you get one goal a night or no goals, and you’re frustrated. You put the work in, you usually get rewarded.”
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The Sharks have gone nine straight games, and 13 of the last 14, without recording more than two goals in regulation. They’ve fallen to 26th in the league in goals per game with just 2.21. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 19 goals in 14 games is the fewest the Sharks have scored in that span in franchise history.
Still, the team is generating 30.1 shots per game, eighth in the league. McLellan talked a bit more on Saturday morning about what the Sharks want to do in that department.
“If you’re the quarterback and throwing it to the end zone and the receivers aren’t going there, it makes no sense. If you’re the receiver and you’re running to the end zone and the quarterback never throws it there, you’re not going to go there anymore,” McLellan said. “That’s the same analogy with the shooter and the net play in our league.”
“We have to have a shoot-first mentality. We have to attack the net with some authority to score. Teams that aren’t scoring are talking about this on a daily basis. We’re stressing it. We have to have everybody with that type of mentality. We can’t be a pass-first, and react off of that, type team.”
One player who has had some success in the scoring department is Patrick Marleau. Marleau’s 12 goals tie him for fourth in the league, and he has two goals in the last four games, an enormous amount by the Sharks’ recent standards. Judging by the morning skate, Marleau, who skated well in the loss to Detroit, will start the game at center for the first time this season. Pavelski and Tim Kennedy will be the wingers.
The Sharks have been doing plenty of line shuffling lately in their quest for more offense. Pavelski doesn’t mind.
“It doesn’t matter, we get to play the game,” he said. “Whatever line you’re on you doing a lot of the same things. We have a structure and certain way we want to play, and guys understand that.”
Pekka Rinne and the Predators have given up an uncharacteristic 13 goals in the last three games, including a 5-1 loss in Anaheim on Wednesday. Still, Rinne, who gave up all five to the Ducks and was pulled after 40 minutes, is coming off of a shutout win against San Jose, 1-0 in overtime at Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 12.
In his last nine starts against the Sharks, Rinne is 5-1-3 with a 1.64 goals-against average and .953 save percentage.
“He’s going to stop every first shot and probably the rebound, so it’s your third and fourth chances you’re probably going to have to score on,” Joe Thornton said. “Just compete when you’re down there. He’s one of the best, if not the best in the league.”
Dan Boyle said: “They don’t give up much. It certainly sets up for a low scoring game.”
The Predators have been in San Jose practicing for the last two days.
Antti Niemi, who is fourth in the league in goals-against (1.88) and third in save percentage (.933), will make his eighth straight start for the Sharks. He’s 5-3-3 with a 2.18 GAA in his career against Nashville.
The Sharks would like to maintain their strong defensive play.
“Our commitment level is maybe at an all-time high when it comes to that,” McLellan said.
Michal Handzus missed Saturday’s morning skate with what McLellan termed a “maintenance day.” Although McLellan left open the possibility of him playing, it’s probably unlikely. That would mean Andrew Desjardins, who was a healthy scratch on Thursday, would return against Nashville.