Sharks seek to end futility against Sabres
The San Jose Sharks haven’t lost many games this season. Perhaps their most stunning one of the season came in western New York against a franchise trying desperately to get back to the postseason for the first time in six years.
The Sharks look for a measure of revenge and to end a long streak of futility against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at SAP Center in San Jose.
During their matchup on Feb. 7, a power-play goal by Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead with just under 14 minutes left in regulation. Buffalo responded with goals by Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo against Martin Jones in a 3:28 span to eventually force overtime.
Kane scored 65 seconds into the extra session to give the Sabres (28-29-12) the 5-4 win.
“That’s probably the worst we’ve played and gotten a win, but in saying that, we never gave up and it’s a huge win for us,” Okposo said after that contest. “We’ve been saying it for a couple months, we’ve got to find ways to win games and I guess that’s one of the ways.”
Since February 2010, the Sabres have found plenty of ways to defeat the Sharks. Over the last 11 meetings, Buffalo has posted a 10-0-1 record while outscoring them 36-19. The Sabres also go for their sixth straight win in northern California.
Special teams could be the difference in this game.
San Jose (41-20-7) hasn’t allowed a power-play goal through the first three games of its season-high six-game homestand, killing off all nine short-handed instances. Buffalo is 8-for-22 on the power play over its last six games, and leads the league in power-play conversion (23.7 percent) and man-advantage goals (50).
The Sabres are 13th in the Eastern Conference and their hopes of ending their playoff drought aren’t promising. This contest begins a four-game road trip, and seven of the club’s final 13 games are on the road where the Sabres have dropped four in a row and seven of nine to fall to 11-17-6.
Buffalo’s best record against any division comes against the Pacific. The Sabres are 6-4-1 and averaging 3.72 goals per game against that division, and will travel to Los Angeles and Anaheim before wrapping up their trip in Detroit.
Like its stunning win last month, Buffalo rallied from a deep deficit to get the victory its last time out. The Sabres allowed three goals in the first 10:47 before getting goals from five players to top the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 on Saturday.
“We came out in the second with nothing to lose,” defenseman Jake McCabe told the Buffalo News after scoring one of the goals. “It’s been a rough stretch here and it’s getting to the point now you have to have a short memory.
“We know what’s expected of us, what we’ve been told to do. We have to go out there and perform.”
Jack Eichel and Kane each had a goal and an assist for Buffalo to remain red-hot.
Since Feb. 1, Eichel leads the league with 19 assists and 26 points. Despite missing the first 21 games of the season with a high ankle sprain, Eichel has still registered 47 points — nine short of his total in 81 games as a rookie last season.
Kane has posted 11 of his team-high 25 goals over his last 16 contests, and needs five more markers to reach 30 for the second time in his career.
Buffalo faces a San Jose team that begins play with the largest lead over any of the NHL’s four division leaders, and has a game in hand over two teams chasing it in the Pacific, the Anaheim Ducks and the Calgary Flames.
“It’s always going to be a race to the end, and everyone wants to be in that top spot. You want to get home ice. I think we always are watching who we’d be playing or how other teams are faring,” Sharks defenseman Paul Martin told the league’s official website.
The Sharks have taken two of three during their extended homestand after ripping the Dallas Stars 5-1 on Sunday. Pavelski scored twice, including his first short-handed marker since Feb. 1, 2014 — a span of 259 games.
Pavelski has five goals in his last four games and was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday. The Sharks’ captain needs one more tally to tie Brent Burns for the team lead.
However, Pavelski hasn’t scored a goal in four straight home games versus Buffalo.
Neither Jones nor rookie backup Aaron Dell have faced the Sabres in San Jose. Dell, who defeated the Stars on Sunday, could be in line to make consecutive starts.
Overall, Dell is 10-4-1 with a 1.82 goals-against average, a .938 save percentage and one shutout. At home, however, Dell is 6-0-0 while allowing only eight goals on 155 shots faced.