NASHVILLE— A recurring theme to the Sharks season is that they’ve been able to beat some of the better teams in the league while losing to lesser clubs.
Now, they just seem to be losing to everyone.
Craig Smith scored twice, Shea Weber had a goal and an assist, and incomparable Pekka Rinne was stellar in net as the Predators cruised to a 5-1 win at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.
The Sharks lost for the fifth time in their last six (1-4-1), and are just 2-5-2 in their last nine and fading fast despite still technically clinging to a playoff spot.
Nashville, the NHL’s top team, won its sixth straight including all four games on its homestand. The Predators are 25-3-1 at home.
Much like their game against the Lightning at home on Sunday, the Sharks did some good things in the match, especially early. Again, though, they made too many mistakes and got a suspect performance in goal from Alex Stalock in their only appearance of the season in the Music City.
The Predators took control with three goals in the second period to open up a 5-1 edge.
Smith’s second less than a minute into the middle frame got it started, when he got the rebound of a Mattias Ekholm shot at the 53-second mark on the power play.
Less than a minute later, Paul Gaustad found open ice on a rush, and buzzed it past Stalock at 1:43.
An incredible display by Rinne followed. On a Sharks power play, the goaltender got his left pad on a shot by Logan Couture just in time. The rebound settled in front of the goal where Joe Pavelski got to it, but Rinne dove across the crease to deny Pavelski’s backhand.
Later on the same power play, Rinne got just enough of another Pavelski try with his glove, and turned away a Patrick Marleau deflection from the slot.
The Sharks didn’t have much life after that, and James Neal’s 20th goal increased Nashville’s lead to 5-1, when he found space between Stalock’s legs at 10:31.
Rinne, second in the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, finished with 42 saves.
The Sharks have surrendered four or more goals in eight of their last 12 games. Since the start of 2015, they have a team goals-against average of 3.52 (74 goals-against in 21 games).
The teams combined for 32 first period shots, including 17 by San Jose, but Nashville ended up with a 2-1 edge.
Matt Irwin opened the scoring, charging towards the net from the defensive zone. He got behind everyone, corralled a pass from Melker Karlsson, and beat Rinne with a breakaway wrist shot at 5:26.
Nashville responded. Weber unleashed a slap shot from the point after an offensive zone faceoff win that beat Stalock through traffic at 13:42, and shortly after Smith capitalized on a Matt Nieto turnover at 16:02.
The Sharks lost their fourth straight game in Nashville (0-4-1). The Predators have won eight of the last 11 head-to-head matchups.
The crowd was minimal, as Nashville has been dealing with snowy and icy conditions over the past 36 hours.
The Predators won for the 17th time when allowing the first goal, the most in the league (17-11-2).
The Sharks generated nine power play shots in three advantages, but Rinne stopped them all, including his amazing display in the second period.
Nashville scored on one of its two power plays, with the goal coming on a questionable Brenden Dillon interference minor. The Sharks have allowed one power play goal-against in five of their last six games.
Stalock took the loss, allowing five goals on 37 shots. He was making his first career start against Nashville, playing for the first time since Feb. 4, and has allowed at least three goals in each of his last five starts.
Niemi, the subject of trade rumors lately, had started 10 of the previous 11 games.
Rinne, a Vezina Trophy candidate, improved to 15-1-1 in his last 17 games and is 8-4-4 career against San Jose.
Justin Braun returned from an 11-game absence with a left hand injury. To make room for him, Matt Tennyson was reassigned to Worcester.
Tyler Kennedy drew into the lineup for the first time in four games, while Andrew Desjardins was a healthy scratch for the second time in the last four.
Nashville traded for Toronto forward Mike Santorelli and defenseman Cody Franson on Sunday, but neither was available to play.
The Sharks visit the Dallas Stars for the second time this season on Thursday. They won at American Airlines Center on Nov. 8, 5-3. It will be the first time the teams are meeting since swapping defensemen Brenden Dillon and Jason Demers.
The Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series.