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Suddenly struggling Sharks pay visit to Predators

by Brian Hunter

SHARKS (7-3-2) at PREDATORS (5-3-4)


Last 10: San Jose 5-3-2; Nashville 5-3-2

Season series: Second of three meetings. The Predators became the first team to defeat the Sharks this season with a 2-1 shootout win in San Jose on Feb. 2. Pekka Rinne stopped 26 shots as well as all three Sharks attempts in the penalty-shot tiebreaker, while Craig Smith netted the decisive goal for the Predators.

Big story: Two of the top defensive teams in the NHL face off, and Tuesday's game could be a mirror image of the first matchup, which went scoreless into the third period before Nashville's Sergei Kostitsyn and San Jose's Martin Havlat traded goals. The Predators have a team goals-against average of 1.92, tied for second in the League, while the Sharks saw theirs rise to 2.17 after Monday, still good for seventh.

Team Scope:

Sharks: Since rampaging through the month of January to the tune of a 7-0 start, San Jose has done an about face since the calendar turned. The Sharks bring an 0-3-2 record in February into Tuesday's game. Even the normally staunch defense took the night off Monday in Columbus, as the Blue Jackets pasted them by a 6-2 score. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski added goals to their strong starts, but the supporting cast was silent once again.

"It's pretty simple. The team that works the hardest wins," coach Todd McLellan said. "(We were) outworked, outexecuted, outdetailed, outgoaltended -- out-a lot of things."

Predators: Unlike its opponent, which ranks in the top 10 of the League in goal scoring, Nashville struggles just as much to put the puck in the other team's net as it excels in keeping the puck out of its own. That continued to be evident over the weekend as the Predators' four-game winning streak came to an end with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Wild on Saturday followed by a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the dominant Blackhawks on Sunday. The Predators are averaging 1.83 goals per game, last in the League, and it's not making life easy on the goaltenders.

"There's too many times we go down the wall and stop and look for a pass, and everything closes off," captain Shea Weber told The Tennessean. "Teams are good, teams skate well, and not only are they good on the forecheck, but they backcheck hard, so they have back pressure and you don't have much time to make plays. You have to get pucks to the net."

Who's hot: Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, who had the night off Monday, pitched a shutout in his last start, making 21 saves, but was still saddled with a 1-0 loss via the shootout. He's fifth in the League in GAA (1.82) and save percentage (.933). … Rinne has held up well for the Predators despite the lack of goal support -- though he gave up three goals Sunday, he had allowed only three combined over his previous four starts, all wins.

Injury report: San Jose forward Andrew Desjardins missed Monday's game with flu-like symptoms. … Nashville defenseman Hal Gill (undisclosed) is day-to-day, while forward Patric Hornqvist is on injured reserve with a knee sprain.

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