Overcoming a rough start to reach .500 could be viewed as quite an accomplishment for a rebuilding team that finished at the bottom of the NHL the previous two seasons.
That's not enough to satisfy the young Buffalo Sabres, though.
Surging Buffalo can earn its sixth victory in seven tries by winning a ninth straight meeting with the visiting San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
The Sabres (8-8-0) are off to their best 16-game start since beginning 10-6-0 in 2011-12 and are at .500 for the first time since the end of the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
They've won five of six to hit that mark and extended their winning streak to three with Thursday's 3-2 victory at Florida. Buffalo already is more than a third of the way to reaching last year's win total of 23 and is on the verge of having more wins than losses for the first time since being 2-1-0 in 2012-13.
“We started the season 2-6, and 3-7 in our first 10,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We thought we were better than that.”
Ryan O'Reilly, acquired in an offseason trade with Colorado, has a team highs of nine assists and 13 points, and No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel leads the club with six goals.
Both were held off the score sheet Thursday, though, as Brian Gionta, Cody Franson and Sam Reinhart scored. Rasmus Ristolainen finished with two assists to add to his three goals during a three-game point streak.
“We're going to attack and we're going to be fine in our zone,” winger Marcus Foligno told the team's official website. “No days off around here, that's the biggest thing. We won (both games on the road trip), but it's no big deal. We're .500, not first in the league. That's our goal.”
Gionta had two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win over San Jose in the previous meeting Nov. 18 – the Sabres' eighth straight victory in the series. The Sharks have lost on their last five trips to Buffalo since last winning there Dec. 2, 2005.
San Jose (8-8-0) looks to snap that drought after beginning a six-game trip with Friday's 3-2 win over Detroit. Joe Pavelski scored to give him five of his team-high nine goals on the road, while Matt Nieto and Melker Karlsson also scored.
The Sharks won't play at home until facing defending champion Chicago on Nov. 25.
“This is a tough road trip, so to start it with a good team win is great,” said Pavelski, who has one assist in his last seven against Buffalo. “Now we can think about tomorrow. This is a lot of games on the road, so we can't start looking ahead.”
Martin Jones made 27 saves, but it's unclear if he'll start both ends of the back-to-back. Alex Stalock, who has a 2.85 goals-against average in three starts and two relief efforts, could get his first start since beating Florida on Nov. 5.
Chad Johnson could be back in net for Buffalo after rookie Linus Ullmark had 36 saves to beat the Panthers. Johnson, who has never faced the Sharks, had 30 saves in a 4-1 win at Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
Sabres defenseman Mike Weber, who hasn't played since Nov. 7, had surgery Friday for a lower-body injury and is out indefinitely.
- Alex Stalock
- Brian Gionta
- Buffalo Sabres
- Chad Johnson
- Cody Franson
- Jack Eichel
- Joe Pavelski
- Linus Ullmark
- Marcus Foligno
- Martin Jones
- Matt Nieto
- Melker Karlsson
- Mike Weber
- Rasmus Ristolainen
- Ryan O'Reilly
- Sam Reinhart
- San Jose Sharks