NASHVILLE, Tenn. — This time the hole was too deep.
Just as they did a week ago to earn a victory over the same Nashville Predators, the Sharks scored in the final minute Tuesday night. Only this time it merely narrowed the losing margin to 4-3 as San Jose's 12-game streak without a regulation loss came to an end.
"Too little, too late," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "In this stretch we've gotten away with some periods that maybe we shouldn't have, and tonight we didn't."
His coach had a similar view of the end of the streak that pushed hs team to the top of the NHL.
"It caught up to us a little bit," Todd McLellan said before recounting some troubling moments in recent games. "We gave up the two-goal leads, we scored late against this team to salvage a win. We need to get home and get some good practice time under our belt, understand how we need to play, refocus on what makes us good."
The Sharks did get goals from Scott Nichol, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. And while backup Thomas Greiss started at goalie, McLellan termed his play "the least of our worries" because of the breakdowns in front of him that led to Nashville's scoring by Steve Sullivan, Jerred Smithson, Joel Ward and David Legwand.
Special teams played a big part in the outcome. The Sharks had the league's best penalty kill entering the game, but the Predators scored twice on the power play. San Jose, on the other hand, went 0-for-2.
Sullivan's goal came at 13:19 of the first period with Nashville holding a two-man advantage because Sharks forward Logan Couture and defenseman Douglas Murray were in the penalty box. Nichol, who played the past five seasons in Nashville, got that one back with a short-handed effort just 1:04 later, chipping in a pass from Jed Ortmeyer for his first goal as a Shark.
But the Predators regained the lead at 16:06 when Smithson capped off a two-on-one rush that resulted from a misplay by defenseman Jason Demers.
"We just made a very poor read on a pinch that we had no business making," McLellan said.
Nashville made it 3-1 in the second period when Ward deflected a slap shot by defenseman Ryan Suter for a power-play goal at 8:16 after Boyle had been called for tripping. Legwand's one-timer from the center of the left faceoff circle gave the Predators a three-goal lead.
Thornton took a perfect pass from rookie forward Frazer McLaren to beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne with only 41 seconds left in the middle period. And though the Sharks applied pressure in the third period, nothing got past Rinne again until Marleau scored with 50.7 seconds remaining and with Greiss already pulled in favor of the extra attacker.
Nichol said the Sharks simply got outworked by the Predators.
"We couldn't get it behind them," he said. "We cough it up five feet inside our blue line, we cough it up five feet outside our blue line. Then we're turned and we're backchecking. That's the kind of game they play, a real north-south game. "... We're a good team when we work, but every team in this league can win on any night. And if you're not going to work, you're not going to win."
McLellan also pointed to mental mistakes by his team.
"When you're on the back end of a road trip and maybe your legs don't give you everything you want, mentally you better be sharp," the coach said, "and we weren't that, one bit."
The Sharks won't be back in action until Friday when they play the Philadelphia Flyers at HP Pavilion, and Boyle said the Sharks want to avoid starting the wrong kind of streak.
"I think it's important not to lose two games in a row," he said, something that hasn't happened yet in regulation this season. "That's a mini-goal to have."
For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Contact him at 408-920-5940.
Philadelphia (11-5-1) at Sharks (14-5-4), 7 p.m. CSNCA