NASHVILLE – Viktor Stalberg had a goal and an assist and former Sharks prospect Carter Hutton made 36 saves, as the Predators beat the Sharks at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night, 3-2.
Hutton allowed a Dan Boyle tip-in at 7:28 of the third period as the Sharks cut Nashville’s lead to 2-1. That marker, which started with Patrick Marleau stripping Shea Weber behind the net and finding an open Matt Irwin high in the offensive zone, ended a stretch of more than 132 minutes without an even-strength goal.
Nashville got the game-winner with about two and a half minutes to go, though, when Stalberg beat Antti Niemi with a wrist shot from the circle on a two-on-one rush.
Marleau made it interesting for the game’s final minute, when he redirected a Boyle pass with Niemi pulled for an extra attacker at 19:05. Niemi remained out and the Sharks nearly tied it during a scrum in front of the net with 30 seconds to go, but they couldn’t find the equalizer.
The Sharks dropped the first of a three-game road trip, losing for the fifth time in their last six games (1-4-1). After starting the season 10-1-1, San Jose is just 10-6-5 in its last 21 games, including four straight losses on the road.
The Predators struck for the only goal in the first period by outnumbering the Sharks in front of the net. A Viktor Bartley shot deflected off of Eric Nystrom’s leg at 16:04.
After a generally lethargic first period, the Sharks played better in the second period, but allowed a power play goal to fall behind 2-0 at the break. Craig Smith found Roman Josi in the high slot, and Josi placed a wrist shot over Niemi’s shoulder at 18:08.
There were two fights in the game. Andrew Desjardins and Rich Clune dropped the gloves less than three minutes into the first period, and James Sheppard and Kevin Klein staged a bout early in the third.
The Sharks return to Nashville on Jan. 7. The Predators visit San Jose on April 5.
After scoring three power play goals in Thursday’s 3-1 win over Minnesota, the Sharks finished 0-for-2 against Nashville.
Stuart’s minor for closing his hand on the puck at 18:08 of the second period was the Sharks’ first and only penalty of the night, and they could not kill it off.
In their last 11 road games, the Sharks are just 17-for-26 on the penalty kill (65.3 percent).
Hutton, who played 22 games for Worcester in 2010-11, improved to 7-3-1 on the season, as Nashville remains without an injured Pekka Rinne.
Niemi started for the 12th time in the last 13 games, and had 20 saves.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic did not play for the final eight minutes of the first period. He was labeled as questionable to return after the first period, but was back out on the ice to start the second period.
Sheppard returned after two games as a healthy scratch in place of Freddie Hamilton, who was reassigned to Worcester on Friday.
Scott Hannan (upper body) missed his fourth straight game, but is nearing a return.
The Sharks were scheduled to fly to St. Louis immediately after the game, will practice there on Monday, and play the Blues on Tuesday. The road trip concludes on Thursday in Los Angeles.