Sabres top Sharks despite Neuvirth injury in snowy Buffalo
The more than 4-feet of snow that fell on parts of the Buffalo region wasn't much of a concern to Sabres captain Brian Gionta. A bigger worry was his season-long goal drought.
Gionta took care of that by heating up on a wintry night with two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.
"It was a big relief," said Gionta, who signed with Buffalo in free agency last summer. "It's been a long time. It weighs on you a little bit."
As for the weather that led to a sparse crowd of about 6,200 showing up, Gionta smiled and noted he's used to snow growing up in nearby Rochester.
"You feel for the people in the southern part of the city that are either hit hard or still in their cars," he said. "But you've got to give credit to the fans that came out and battled that weather and were here to support us. On a night like this it's very easy to not show up."
The Sabres certainly did in giving their winter-weary faithful something to cheer about. Coming off a 6-2 victory over Toronto on Saturday, Buffalo (5-13-2) won consecutive games for the first time since a three-game streak late last February.
Nicolas Deslauriers and Brian Flynn also scored as the Sabres won their eighth straight against San Jose, dating to the 2009-10 season. Jhonas Enroth stopped 20 shots over the final two periods after replacing starter Michal Neuvirth, who did not return after sustaining a lower body injury in the first period.
"I was a little surprised when they did say we were going to play," coach Ted Nolan said. "Buffalo's a tough city, and always finds a way to get through these types of things. And I was glad we did."
The Sharks (10-9-2) were the ones who came up flat in closing a seven-game road swing at 3-4.
Brent Burns scored their lone goal in a game the Sharks lost despite outshooting the Sabres 30-14.
"I think we're figuring out who we are and I don't know if we like it at this point," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We've got to improve in a lot of areas."
Odd-man rushes and turnovers proved costly.
After Burns tied it at 1 at the 10:29 mark of the second period, Gionta scored 85 seconds later by capitalizing on a 3-on-2 rush.
Corralling a rolling puck in the lower right circle on a pass from Flynn, Gionta slapped the puck inside the far post.
Gionta then set up Flynn on a 2-on-1 break to make it 3-1 with 12 seconds left in the period, and sealed the win with an empty-netter in the final minute.
"Just dumb hockey," McLellan said. "You don't win at any level playing like that."
The Sharks also had a call go against them when Justin Braun had a goal disallowed in the first period.
After his initial shot was turned aside by Neuvirth, Braun stopped at the top of the crease, when Sabres forward Tyler Ennis crashed into his goalie and knocked the puck into the net. The goal was disallowed after Braun was whistled for incidental contact.
Neuvirth appeared to be hurt on the play but finished the period, but didn't return for the start of the second frame. That led Buffalo to make the unusual move of signing their goalie coach, Arturs Irbe, to a tryout contract.
Irbe, a former NHL goalie, suited up in time for the third period.
"It's a snow day," Irbe said with a laugh, noting he hasn't played professionally in seven years. "I obviously didn't want Jhonny to get hurt or something bad to happen. But if I would go in, I would have fun."
The biggest cheer from the sparse crowd went up with 4:44 remaining when San Jose's Patrick Marleau had a goal overturned on a video review. Marleau got to the front of the net and backhanded a shot that sneaked in behind Enroth and was rolling over the line before Buffalo's Matt Moulson swept it away.
NOTES: The storm stranded Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta, who was snowed in and unable to leave his home. ... Sharks rookie goalie Troy Grosenick stopped 10 shots after stopping 45 in a 2-0 win in his NHL debut at Carolina on Sunday. ... The Sabres improved to 16-1 at home against San Jose.