Pekka Rinne continued his excellent level of play tonight against the Sharks. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Nashville Predators 1, San Jose Sharks 0: Pekka Rinne and Colin Wilson Win It For Nashville Again

For the second time in four games, Pekka Rinne was perfect in the Nashville Predators net. That marked the second time in three games the slumping San Jose Sharks were shut out through regulation and overtime. It was also their sixth consecutive loss after starting the season 7-0-0.

The Sharks came out strong in the first period and, in a familiar refrain, outshot Nashville 13-3. Many of the shots came from the outside but Pekka Rinne made several big saves on Tim Kennedy, who was playing his first game of the season, and TJ Galliardi. Despite being outshot heavily, the Preds didn’t sit back on their heels. They played aggressive hockey and took the game to the Sharks whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Rinne looked close to unbeatable from the very beginning, which was a good thing because the second period would descend into penalty madness for Nashville. The Preds were slapped with six minor penalties – four of them to Martin Erat alone, including a garbage double-minor call for high-sticking that should’ve only been two minutes.

Nashville Predators center Paul Gaustad

Paul Gaustad’s faceoff and penalty-killing prowess were key to the Nashville Predators’ win tonight. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Other than Erat’s call for holding Brad Stuart’s stick and Colin Wilson’s tripping call on T.J. Galliardi, all of the penalties came as a result of dictating the game at San Jose’s end of the ice. Yet the Nashville Predators’ penalty killers looked as strong as they have all season, killing off each of the penalties with a little help from Rinne. The Preds also managed to mount serious pressure on the Sharks despite being shorthanded so often, and they outshot San Jose 11-6 in the second period.

The game was knotted at 0-0 as the third period began and Nashville stuck to the same game plan as before – harass the Sharks at every opportunity, take away their space, and look for an opening. They continued to outshoot San Jose – they finished 10-3 for the period – but Antti Niemi held them at bay. The last few minutes of the third period were a wave of pure Nashville attack that couldn’t break down San Jose’s man in net, sending the game to extra time.

In overtime San Jose managed a few chances, including one that was initially saved by Rinne but began dribbling back toward the goal line before being cleared by a quick-thinking Gabriel Bourque.

But a Nashville push back from one of those shots just over two minutes in was all it took to end the game. The final play saw David Legwand take advantage of the extra space in 4-on-4 play and make a nice cross-ice outlet pass to Ryan Ellis, who had enough room in front of him to coast into the San Jose zone. Ellis made a little bit of room for himself with some stickhandling, which also bought time for Colin Wilson time to move down low. A floating shot from Ellis, a rebound from Niemi, and a finish by Wilson at 2:08 gave the crowd at Bridgestone the most satisfying resolution they’ve seen yet this year.

Some observations:

  • Nashville looked great all game, rash of second-period penalties aside. They played classic Predator hockey once again, dictating the pace and flow of the game from the second period on. They laid on 17 hits, blocked 18 shots, and killed off six penalties en route to the one-goal win. 
  • The game finished with both teams even in shots at 25 apiece. Many of Nashville’s came on second-chance opportunities off of rebounds, something that’s been visibly lacking in their game most of the season to date.
  • Pekka Rinne has been the undisputed MVP of this Nashville Predators team so far, but he looked particularly great tonight. He never lost track of the puck, he wasn’t giving up many rebounds, and he stood on his head when necessary. He stopped all 25 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season. There’s every reason for him to be generating early Hart Trophy buzz.
  • Paul Gaustad, already second in the league in faceoff wins, won 76 percent of his tonight. He also logged five hits and one blocked shot. Between that and his presence on the 6-for-6 penalty kill, he was one of the most valuable players on the ice for Nashville tonight.
  • Nashville Predators center Mike Fisher

    Mike Fisher won the battles in his zone tonight. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

    Kevin Klein continues to impress on the second pair. He blocked four shots tonight and managed a team-high four shots of his own in 21:34 of ice time, a lot of it on the penalty killing unit.

  • Mike Fisher looked good on the defensive end of things once again, but he looks like he might have lost a step from last year. Then again, maybe having a league-leading blocked shot total among forwards has something to do with that.
  • Sergei Kostitsyn only registered one shot on goal but he took several more. He also registered one hit and generally looked livelier than he has most of the season so far.
  • “Colin Wilson with the game winner!” has a really nice ring to it. I could get used to hearing that sentence used in the proper context.
  • No shots on goal for Joe Thornton, whom the Preds held to just one shot in their previous game. His absence from the score sheet is almost a prerequisite for winning against San Jose. Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau were both far more active than Thornton with four shots apiece, but Rinne shut them both down with ease. At this point it’s hard to believe they won seven games to start the season.
  • Antti Niemi was on all night. He’s a lot like Pekka in that when he’s in the zone, the Sharks always have a chance to win. The Sharks right now are the perfect demonstration of what the Nashville Predators could be if things tip just a little bit different in a few plays over the course of the season. Nashville dominated the last 40 minutes of the game but couldn’t put the game away, and they were just a few inches away from losing in overtime before Gabriel Bourque made a savvy play to clear the puck from Rinne’s crease. If they keep giving full effort for the whole game like they did tonight they can hopefully tip the balance in their favor.

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