The Nashville Predators are the best team in the Western Conference so far this 2015-16 NHL season. They showed why in winning a stifling defensive battle over the host San Jose Sharks Wednesday, Oct. 28.
Both goalies were among atombash.com’s pictured stars of the game, but it was the Predators that shined the brightest. The event summary is unusual in that they attempted four more shots (61-57) and got three more on net (24-21) despite winning just 16 of 53 faceoffs, only getting six of those possessions back from the giveaway-takeaway differential (7-5 vs. 16-8) and having a modest 26-23 edge in hits.
The Sharks blocked one more shot (25-24) in an impressive contest of defensive responsibility and execution, but that represents a marginally smaller percentage of attempts (40.98 vs. 42.11 percent) and ratio of blocks to shots (1.04 vs. 1.14 to one). It should be noted that normally that ratio is described as shots allowed per block, but both teams inverted that in the rarest statistical quirk from Wednesday.
Typically even good defensive teams committed to blocking shots usually do not block 30 percent of attempts and allow over three shots on net for every two they do block. That both teams were a third-again better in both areas is perhaps the best demonstration of the defensive clinic both teams were putting on.
Ironically, the first goal came just 3:22 into the contest. Paul Gaustad moved the puck along the right-wing boards and fed it across to the neutral zone. Roman Josi took it into the offensive zone at the same time as Eric Nystrom, who slapped a pretty feed past Martin Jones from the left-wing circle.
The next goal would not come until the third period. Just 78 seconds in, San Jose controlled the puck in the attacking zone for long enough that Matt Nieto was able to get a stick on a Matt Tennyson shot to allow his captain to pound it home. Cross-checking Joe Pavelski to the ice twice only inspired the kind of fight and response that a team needs to see from its leader to get up and tie the game anyway.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, it did not last. Just over seven minutes later, Seth Jones sent the puck to Gabriel Bourque in the neutral zone to be fed to Eric Nystrom on the attack. Tennyson played it pretty well but was unable to shut it down. Jones was positioned out far enough as to leave little room over his left shoulder, but it was enough for the wrist-shot precision that wound up scoring the game-winning goal.
Both teams also showed discipline by staying out of the box (two power plays each) and killing both penalties, while the two other matching minors show how hard they were battling. At this time of the 2015-16 NHL season, a team playing well in a loss is probably a better sign than one playing poorly in a win, but San Jose will have to find a way to get more scoring over the next month or so without Logan Couture.