NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The desperation kicked in too late for Todd McLellan's liking Saturday night as the Sharks opened their latest trip with a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators.

The Sharks made a game of it on third-period goals by Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau, but those came after the Predators were ahead 2-0 and 3-1.

"I guess there's two ways of looking at it," the Sharks coach said. "Geez, it's good we responded, but I think we should be a desperate club in warm-ups and then on."

The Predators got their goals from Eric Nystrom, Roman Josi and the winner by Viktor Stalberg. And onetime Sharks prospect Carter Hutton earned the win in goal by stopping 36 shots.

The loss was the Sharks' fifth in their past six games.

Slow starts have been unusual this season as the Sharks have outscored their opponents 42-15 in the opening period. But Saturday was an exception.

"We weren't near aggressive enough," McLellan said of his team's play over the first half of the game. "I thought they competed along the walls harder, they took a lot of time and space away from us, and anything that got toward the net, we were on the outside. You're not going to win like that."

The Predators got the lone goal of the first period when a shot by defenseman Victor Bartley glanced off Nystrom's leg and past Niemi at 16:04.

Nashville made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 18:08 of the second period when Josi took a behind-the-net pass from Craig Smith and hit the twine with a quick wrist shot from the slot.

"It was tough to find the puck," Niemi said, "which side to look for it."

The Sharks cut their deficit in half at 7:28 of the third period after Marleau took the puck away from Nashville defenseman Shea Weber behind the Predators net, then sent it to Matt Irwin. His shot-pass was deflected by Boyle, pinching into the slot.

What proved to be the winning goals came off Stalberg's stick with 2:39 left when he finished off a two-on-one rush with a shot from the left faceoff circle that ended up in the far side of the net.

Niemi said he thought he was well-positioned, but he shouldered the responsibility.

"I think it hit the glove maybe and went underneath," he said. "For sure, a big goal, a big time of the game. Good shot, too. But I've got to be able to make the save."

McLellan pulled Niemi shortly after Stalberg's goal, and the Sharks crept within one with 54.6 seconds left when Boyle found Marleau to the right of the Nashville net for a deflection.

The Sharks came close to tying the score on a wild scramble with 28.9 seconds left but couldn't poke the puck past Hutton, an undrafted college free agent who played 22 games as a Sharks prospect with Worcester in the 2010-11 season.

Hutton, who has been sharing the net with Marek Mazanec after an injury to Pekka Rinne, is 7-3-1 in his first opportunity to play regularly in the NHL. But the Sharks were far more focused on their own shortcomings than his success.

"We can't start slow," Logan Couture said. "We've got to be better on the road. We know how big points are right now. It's a tough loss."

And they can't wait for that desperation to kick in.

"It seems like that's the way it's been lately for us," Couture said. "It's something that needs to change."

  • The game featured two fights as Andrew Desjardins and Nashville forward Rich Clune threw more than a few punches in a first-period scuffle, and James Sheppard dropped the gloves with Predators defenseman Kevin Klein in the third.

  • McLellan said Minnesota coach Mike Yeo called him Friday morning to apologize for accusing the Sharks of embellishing penalties after San Jose's 3-1 victory Thursday night.

    For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PollakOnSharks.

    TUESDAY'S GAME
    Sharks (20-7-6) at St. Louis (22-6-3),
    5 p.m. CSNCA