Jones, Sharks stifle Predators to take 2-0 series lead
The Nashville Predators looked better in Game 2, but the Sharks weathered the storm. Goalie Martin Jones stopped 37 shots and San Jose converted two opportunistic chances to take a 3–2 victory.
After a scoreless opening frame, Logan Couture converted a power play goal at the end of the second period. The Preds stormed back in the third on a game-tying Mattias Ekholm score at 12:56. But one bad defensive shift by Nashville allowed the Sharks top line to pounce late in the third. Goals traded late with the Predators’ net empty accounted for the final score.
Game 3 takes the series to Nashville on Tuesday.
Here's three thoughts on a win that gave the Sharks a 2-0 series lead:
Forechecking comes to the...fore
A good forecheck facilitated the teams’ very different styles of offense. For the Predators, the forecheck is necessary, as they like to dump the puck in and race the Sharks' defensemen deep. They were much more successful in doing so in this game thanks to some much needed rest and the return of right wing Craig Smith. Nashville is now 4–1 with Smith in these playoffs, who has intermittently missed time with an undisclosed injury. Smith's line with Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro was buzzing, and Smith ended the game with a whopping seven shots.
The San Jose forecheck was more about hounding the Preds' puck-moving defensemen and forcing turnovers. The Sharks’ speed allows them to swarm in the offensive zone and turn one opposing mistake turn into a sequence of shots. Twice in the first period, the Joe Thornton line was able to keep the Ryan Ellis/Mattias Ekholm pairing hemmed in their own zone after a turnover.
The Sharks score on the power play, again
Nashville was the better team in the second period, but it went for naught when San Jose scored the first goal of the game 1:24 before intermission. At one point in the period, they had doubled up shots on the Sharks 22–11. Goalie Martin Jones played very well, but the Predators made it too easy for him. Then, after Nashville failed to convert on a too many men penalty against the ice at 15:16, the Predators got called for the very same 18:03 when Roman Josi—their sixth man—comically jumped into the San Jose bench.
Thornton's beard makes him look like an Old Testament prophet and in his pre-game TV interview he played the role well, attributing the success of San Jose's power play to the team's ability to knock home the rebounds of Brent Burns’s point shots. And that's exactly when Logan Couture did at 18:36. The Predators have now allowed three power play goals in just two games. Nashville was a disciplined team during the regular season and need to be especially so for the rest of the series. San Jose, on the other hand, needs to stay on the attack to keep drawing defensive zone calls.
Of course another way for the Preds to even up the special teams deficit would be to score some man advantage goals of their own, as Nashville was 0 for 3 after going 1 for 2 on the power play in game one.
Martin Jones was great
Both teams had chances on offense—in fact, by pretty much every metric, the Preds had more. But Jones answered the call for the Sharks, playing a strong game in net. He stopped 36 of 38 shots, 36 of 37 before Nashville scored a garbage-time tally at the end. He was positionally sound and didn't allow the Predators to score anything greasy on jam plays when they became more desperate.
Pekka Rinne made his fair share of exciting saves too. But Shea Weber let him down on a breakdown in coverage which left Joe Pavelski wide open to score at 17:20 in the third period. The Preds will need to find a way to get Jones off his game if they hope to make it a series on Tuesday.