NHL playoffs: Sharks-Predators Game 3 factors to watch
After dropping the first two games in San Jose, the Nashville Predators desperately need a win on home ice Tuesday night (9:00 ET; USA, SN360, TVAS2). Here's what to watch for:
• The Preds know how to get shots on net. They just haven't made the commitment needed to score goals. They hammered 39 pucks on Martin Jones on Sunday, but those were almost exclusively one-and-done attempts. There were just three exceptions in the entire game; the last of them, a Ryan Johansen follow-up of a Roman Josi wrister from the point, led to their second goal of the game with four seconds remaining.
That's not enough pressure to rattle a goaltender as poised as Jones. And just getting bodies to the net won't get it done, either. The Preds need to win the positioning battles, get their sticks on the ice and start testing the rookie keeper's composure.
• Nashville's special teams have to be better. The Preds have done a good job of staying out of the box, but it hasn't mattered because their penalty kill has allowed the Sharks to strike for three goals on just five chances in the series. San Jose got two in the third period of the opener, swinging Game 1 its way. The Sharks are scoring on the rush and off sustained zone pressure, which shows just how dangerous that unit is. At 30.8%, it's the top one still active in the postseason.
Nashville managed to score one of its own with the extra man in Game 1, but still has just two goals to show for 31 power play chances in the playoffs. So maybe it doesn't even matter that the Predators are not doing enough to put the Sharks on their heels and force them to take penalties. Still, they ended up with just three power play chances on Sunday, about two shy of what you'd expect given the way they controlled play.
Clearly, they have to be harder to play against in Game 3. But it's not enough to simply be harder in this one. Outside of Pekka Rinne, who has been brilliant in both starts, Nashville isn't getting enough out of its top guns. Johansen leads the Preds with two goals in the series, but both have come in garbage time. Filip Forsberg has no points and a –4 rating. James Neal, zero points, –3. Shea Weber, zero points, –2. If they're going to avoid a 3-0 hole, they need their best players to be their best players.
• The Sharks were the league's top road team this season, so they come to Bridgestone confident that they can complete the sweep. To move one step closer tonight, they'll need another big night from Logan Couture and Joe Thornton. Couture, the star of Game 1, tallied most of his helpers at home this season, but he scored in bunches on the road, with 11 of his 15 goals coming in other barns. Thornton, who chipped in two points in Game 2, notched 13 of his 19 regular-season goals on the road. Best guess why this happened: Both men play a simpler game on the road, taking straighter lines and getting pucks directly to the net rather than looking for the perfect play. Or maybe they just got lucky. Thornton's shooting percentage went from 9.2% to 23.2%. Couture's, from 5.4% to 17.5%. Either way, both men proved their effectiveness. If they're firing tonight, the Preds are in trouble.