SAN JOSE, California — Antti Niemi capped a rough week with a stellar performance.
Tomas Hertl scored in the first period and Niemi earned his 29th career shutout in his return to the net, helping the San Jose Sharks beat the Nashville Predators 2-0 on Saturday night for their seventh win in eight games.
Niemi missed three straight games for the first time in more than three years after sitting out last Sunday in Edmonton and then being held out of two games earlier this week after getting hit by a puck in a morning skate Tuesday.
But after two slow periods to start the game, Niemi made 18 of his 29 saves in the third to get his second shutout of the season.
"I thought he was very sharp when he needed to be," coach Todd McLellan said. "His week hasn't been easy. He gets injured, misses some starts, comes into a game like that and really doesn't get tested until the third period. He was able to stay in it mentally and physically, and made some saves in the third when we needed them."
Joe Thornton added an empty-net goal as the Sharks put together one of their most complete performances of the season. They would have won more handily if not for strong play from Pekka Rinne, who made 32 saves for Nashville.
Hertl managed to get one past Rinne in the opening minutes and Niemi made it stand up.
"It was slow in our end for two periods, and we had great chances so it was exciting to see him making those saves," Niemi said. "It's exciting playing one of the top goalies."
The Predators failed in their bid to complete a sweep of a three-game road trip, having outscored Colorado and Arizona 8-1 in the first two games.
Rinne, who stopped 57 of 58 shots in those two wins, was just as good against the Sharks but didn't get enough help for it to matter.
"It was hard for us to get it going tonight," Rinne said. "They played extremely well and we were just hanging on there. They had a lot of speed tonight. They were aggressive on the puck. The whole night they seemed to win every battle."
The Sharks dominated from the start, outshooting Nashville 18-7, winning three quarters of the faceoffs, killing two penalties and jumping in front during a strong first period.
Scott Hannan started the scoring play with a hard dump-in that Thornton fed to Joe Pavelski. Rinne saved Pavelski's original shot but Hertl knocked the rebound in for his seventh goal.
San Jose didn't let up and the game got testy late in the period when Tommy Wingels and James Neal fought during a Predators power play.
"You try to get off to a good start every night, just sometimes it happens better than other nights for whatever reason," Thornton said. "Tonight was one of those nights where we just started fast and it won the game for us, probably."
The Sharks continued to control the play in the second period and were only prevented from adding to their lead by some splendid goalkeeping from Rinne. He robbed Pavelski twice on a power play and then made back-to-back stops later in the second against Scott Hannan and Patrick Marleau.
The Predators put some pressure on in the third after coach Peter Laviolette juggled his lines but Niemi was up to the task.
"We didn't generate anything for two periods," Laviolette said. "We were just trying jump-start something. ... We had a lot of opportunities in the third but we just couldn't get it to fall."
NOTES: Four of Thornton's eight goals this season have been empty-netters. ... Predators star D Shea Weber missed most of the second period to get stitches in his arm getting cut on the skate of Sharks F Tye McGinn.