SAN JOSE – Tomas Hertl tallied early in the first period, and that was all the scoring there would be until a late empty net goal in a 2-0 Sharks win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night at SAP Center.
Antti Niemi made 29 saves for his second shutout, and the Sharks won their seventh game in the last eight, including six in a row at home, to continue their climb up the Pacific Division standings.
The Sharks jumped all over Nashville early, playing one of their best first periods in recent memory.
Hertl’s goal came when got in front of the net and was able to pound home his own rebound after Joe Pavelski slid one towards the net and off of the far post. His seventh goal came at 5:01, and was all the scoring in the game until Joe Thornton’s empty-net goal at 18:26 of the third period.
San Jose did just about everything right in the opening frame. The Sharks outshot Nashville 18-7, won 18 of 24 faceoffs, and fought off a pair of minor penalties with some aggressive kills led by Logan Couture and Andrew Desjardins.
There was also an undercurrent of nastiness. Barclay Goodrow and Shea Weber went at one another late in the period, and Goodrow was later whistled for slashing Olli Jokinen. Tommy Wingels fought James Neal at 19:03, taking exception to a cross-check from the former Pittsburgh Penguin.
Pekka Rinne kept the Predators in the game in the second period. He made a stellar stop on Pavelski on a Sharks power play with about 12 minutes left in the period, and also deflected away Pavelski’s rebound attempt.
Then, with about six minutes to go, he got in front of Scott Hannan’s try from the front of the net, and immediately sprawled out to get Patrick Marleau’s rebound attempt to keep it a 1-0 deficit for his club.
The closest the Predators came to scoring came when Jokinen rang a wrist shot off of the far post after a neutral zone turnover by Justin Braun with about nine minutes left in regulation. Nashvile outshot the Sharks 18-5 in the final frame, but couldn’t find the equalizer in losing for just the third time in their last 10 games.
Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic returned from an upper body injury suffered on Tuesday, causing him to miss the final two periods of a game against Edmonton and all of Thursday’s win over Minnesota.
San Jose visits Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 6, while Nashville returns on March 12. The Predators had been 7-1-1 in their last nine games against the Sharks before Saturday’s final.
Neither team was able to score on the power play. Nashville went 0-for-3, and is just one for its last 35 opportunities over the last 10 games.
Nashville would have had another power play with 7:32 to go when James Sheppard cross-checked Craig Smith, but Weber immediately and dangerously hammered Sheppard back into the wall, and both went off on minor penalties.
The Sharks were 0-for-2 on the power play. They have killed off 13 of their last 14 penalties over the last six games to climb into the top 10 in the league in penalty-killing percentage.
Niemi got dinged up in the morning skate on Tuesday, and returned to the net after Alex Stalock started the previous three games. He has won his last five starts.
Rinne, who battled through an injury-plagued 2013-14 season to become a Vezina Trophy favorite again this year, made 32 saves. He still leads the NHL with 19 wins.
Weber and Tye McGinn both got hurt about four minutes into the second period as Weber drilled the Sharks forward in front of the bench. McGinn came back before the end of the second, while Weber needed stitches and returned at the start of the third.
Mirco Mueller came back out of the lineup to make way for Vlasic. Mueller has been scratched in five of the last eight games.
The Sharks are off until next Thursday, when they will host Edmonton for their third game against the last place Oilers. Each team has won on its home ice in the season series so far, including a 5-2 Sharks win at SAP Center on Dec. 9.
San Jose closes out its homestand next Saturday vs. St. Louis, and is in Anaheim on Monday, Dec. 22 in the final game before Christmas break.