NASHVILLE – Pekka Rinne was the biggest story on Tuesday night in Nashville’s 5-1 win over the Sharks. The unparalleled goaltender, nearly a lock to be a Vezina Trophy finalist this season, was simply outstanding in a 42-save performance.
And while the Sharks should be given credit for managing so many shots and chances against the defensively stingy Predators, they continue to give up far too many goals-against. In their last 12 games they have surrendered four or more goals in eight of them, and their goals-against average for the 2015 calendar year now stands at an inflated 3.52.
To put that number in perspective, the Buffalo Sabres are currently last in the NHL with a 3.39 team GAA. Even a substandard performance by Rinne would have been enough to help Nashville earn the win on Tuesday, but the fact that he was on his game only meant the Sharks never had a chance.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Predators chew Sharks up, cruise to 5-1 win]
“We’ve got to be more concerned with our own end, making plays, executing, getting out of our zone and using our speed,” said Matt Irwin, the Sharks’ lone goal scorer.
“It’s just a couple breakdowns, it really is,” Joe Pavelski said. “When it is breaking down, we haven’t recovered and picked up that last guy.”
Goaltending has also been an issue for San Jose. Sure, they’re surrendering too many scoring chances, but they aren’t getting a big save from either of Antti Niemi or Alex Stalock.
It was Stalock’s turn against Nashville, but he allowed five goals on 37 shots. For the season, the backup netminder is 5-7-1 with a 2.85 goals-against average and a save percentage that has now dropped just below .900.
“Defensively, we’ve got some stuff to work on, but obviously the guy at the other end played a hell of a game, too,” Stalock said. “Offensively, we had chances. Got outplayed goaltending-wise.”
A second period Sharks power play came when they were trailing 4-1. A goal could have at least kept it competitive, but Rinne made a number of astonishing saves during the two-minute minor to Mike Fisher. Pavelski had a couple great looks, while Couture and Patrick Marleau were also thwarted.
San Jose sagged after that, perhaps a bit discouraged by a score that didn’t necessarily reflect the way the game had gone up to that point.
In the first period, Irwin’s goal staked the Sharks a 1-0 lead. But a lost faceoff resulted in Shea Weber’s tying goal, and a bad Matt Nieto turnover allowed the Preds to gain a 2-1 lead by the intermission.
Smith got another on the power play in the first minute of the middle frame, and Gaustad added the fourth at 1:43 of the second after a bad Sharks line change.
Then came the power play, and Rinne’s heroics.
“The power play goal that they got to start the second, and then the goal right after, that took some real wind out of our sails,” Todd McLellan said. “Then, obviously the way [Rinne] was playing. … Offensively, created a number of chances, maybe more than we have in a long time against a pretty good defensive team. That’s a positive.
“We’ve still got to clean up a lot of things defensively.”
They do. And until that happens, it won’t matter what’s happening at the other end of the ice or who is between the opposition’s pipes.
“Bottom line is you can’t give up five goals,” Pavelski said. “You don’t win.”