Jonathan Cheechoo scored two goals and an assist and Joe Thornton added three assists as the San Jose Sharks downed the Nashville Predators 3-1 Saturday night at the HP Pavilion at San Jose. Josef Vasicek posted the lone goal for Nashville.
The game wraps up the Predators' four-game West Coast road trip and the team now heads home to prepare for Tuesday night's match-up with the Edmonton Oilers at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Saturday's loss bumps Nashville's record to 18-8-3 on the season and 1-3 for the road trip.
Curtis Brown and Cheechoo beat goaltender Chris Mason in the first period to give the home team a 2-0 cushion before Vasicek scored his second goal as a Predator to pull Nashville within one 16:31 into the middle period. The Predators had their share of chances in the second and early in the third, but San Jose capitalized on a 5-on-3 power play with 3:31 remaining in regulation to restore its two-goal lead. Nashville pulled Mason for an extra attacker with 1:10 left but was unable to beat goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to close the gap.
Nashville's only tally came immediately after defenseman Dan Hamhuis made a nice play in the Predators' zone to prevent a rush by Sharks forward Milan Michalek. Hamhuis recovered the puck and sent it up to teammate Scott Hartnell in the neutral zone. Hartnell then headmanned the puck to Martin Erat, who curled high in the offensive zone and sent a backhand pass to Vasicek entering the right side of the zone. A left-handed shot, Vasicek took a wide arc on the right side before releasing a shot from the dot inside the right face-off circle. Hartnell was moving in front of Nabokov when Vasicek's attempt cleanly entered the net high to the short side.
Prior to his goal, Vasicek had a breakaway in the second period but was pestered from behind by defensemen Kyle McLaren and Matt Carle. Their work prevented him from getting a shot off. Paul Kariya had the game's best chances for Nashville, including two in the second--a stiff backhander in close that missed wide early and a shot that hit the outside of the near post after Kariya had carved in from the right side. Kariya then rang a slapshot from the top of the left circle off the far post with 3:40 gone in the third.
Chances for a third-period rally by the Predators were limited by their three trips to the penalty box. Nashville had one manpower advantage of its own 4:59 into the third but was unable to convert. The Predators penalty killers then neutralized the Sharks' top-ranked power play for a fourth time. Back-to-back calls against Vasicek (hooking) and Hartnell (delay of game--puck over the glass) proved costly, however, as it set up 1:02 of a two-man advantage for San Jose at 16:13. Mason made a great sliding save to rob Thornton seconds into the 5-on-3, but Thornton kept the play alive by flicking the puck to Cheechoo in the slot. Just 13 seconds after the 5-on-3 began, Cheechoo scored with a shot low to Mason's glove side for the 3-1 lead.
NOTES: Josef Vasicek's goal gives him one tally and four assists over the Predators' last six games. Prior to that, Vasicek had just one point--a goal--in his first 12 games... Martin Erat registered an assist on Vasicek's goal and now has four assists in the last two games... Hartnell also assisted on Vasicek's goal and has a goal and an assist over the past two games... Vern Fiddler led Nashville with four shots in the game... Forward Patrick Leahy made his Predators debut after being recalled Friday from Nashville's minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee. He had no shots and was even in 5:46 of ice time... Paul Kariya led all Predators in ice time, logging 24:16. He had three shots on goal and two blocked shots... Defenseman Shea Weber led all players with four hits in the game... David Legwand and Mikko Lehtonen were scratches for the Predators.