SAN JOSE, Calif. – With five shootouts in their first eight games, the Nashville Predators are getting used to the tiebreaker system.
Craig Smith scored the lone goal in the shootout, and Pekka Rinne stopped all three San Jose attempts to help the Predators hand the Sharks their first loss of the season, 2-1 on Saturday night.
“We’re getting in the right direction with the shootouts,” captain Shea Weber said. “We’re getting more confident with it. We wanted to get some points here in San Jose. It’s a big two points for us.”
Sergei Kostitsyn scored his first goal of the season to break a scoreless tie in the opening minute of the third period. Rinne made 26 saves through overtime and led the Predators to their second straight shootout win after they lost their first three this season.
Marty Havlat made up for a premature celebration that cost San Jose a goal by scoring the equalizer on the power play with 6:21 remaining in regulation.
But the Sharks were unable to get the next goal and missed a chance at their eighth straight victory to tie for the third longest season-opening winning streak in NHL history.
After becoming the third NHL team to ever win its first five games by at least two goals, the Sharks have played three straight shootouts as the play has gotten tighter in this lockout-shortened season.
“These are the type of games we’re going to be involved in from now until the end of the year,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “It can be a little frustrating that it’s not a Picasso, but it’s real.”
Smith beat Antti Niemi with a backhand in the second round of the shootout, ending a stretch of six straight shootout stops by Niemi. The Predators got the win when Rinne stopped Joe Pavelski on the next attempt.
“I’m finally making some saves in the shootout,” Rinne said. “It’s been a challenge for us but already we’re on our fifth shootout. That’s quite a bit since we’ve played eight games. It was a big win for us. Smitty’s goal in the shootout was nice, and this time I was able to make the saves we needed to get the win.”
The Predators got on the board after Colin Wilson intercepted Brad Stuart’s soft clearing attempt up the boards. With two Sharks closing in on him, Wilson slid a pass to Kostitsyn, who beat Niemi with a wrister on just his fifth shot this season.
But Havlat made up for his earlier mistake after the Predators took a penalty for too many men on the ice. Scott Gomez got Havlat the puck after a turnover, and Havlat beat Rinne off the backhand for his third goal. That ended a drought of 14 power plays without a goal for San Jose.
“It’s very important to stay patient,” Havlat said. “Not every night everything will go your way but you have to play until the last second, the last minute or the last shift. We came back and we got the point.”
The first two periods featured 32 shots, eight power plays, and one goal celebration but no goals as Havlat’s blunder cost the Sharks one.
The mistake came midway through the second period after Ryane Clowe’s shot from the circle trickled past Rinne and hit the post before settling near the goal line. Havlat came in alone and easily could have tapped the puck into the empty net had he not raised his arms in celebration. By the time Havlat realized his mistake, he was not in position to tap in the puck, much to his disappointment.
“That wasn’t Marty’s fault,” Clowe said. “He thought I scored. After I shot it, I couldn’t see it. I shot it through a screen. I thought it went in as well, so did Marty. It’s just one of those things.”
That was by far the best scoring chance for either team as the power plays for the most part failed to generate quality chances. San Jose had one strong flurry with the man advantage, shortly before Havlat’s mistake, but Rinne stopped Patrick Marleau and Pavelski from in close on rebound attempts.
NOTES: The Sharks failed to score first for the first time since the season opener in Calgary. … Predators F Martin Erat didn’t play after leaving practice on Friday when he was hit in the skate with a puck. … D Jonathon Blum made his first appearance of the season for Nashville. … D Jason Demers made his season debut for the Sharks after missing seven games because of a wrist injury sustained during the lockout. Rookie D Matt Irwinwas scratched.