(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)
SAN JOSE– The Buffalo Sabres scored two quick goals in the third period to beat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 Saturday afternoon. After the teams ground out two scoreless periods, Cody Hodgson took advantage of a defensive lapse to open the scoring at 3:43 of the third. Just over two minutes later, Nicolas Deslauriers extended the Sabres’ lead to 2. The lone Sharks goal was scored by Brent Burns less than 30 seconds after that.
Sabres goaltender Michal Neuvirth made 29 saves in the game, and 15 of those were in the third period. That reflects the sharp disparity in the Sharks’ play during the first two periods and the third. Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said the team just took too long to wake up:
Just by looking at their record, 1 and 7, we shouldn’t have lost this game. But they’re a hard-working team, they play a good system. We were too late on waking up in the third.
Saying the Sharks needed to wake up did not entirely account for their defensively clean but otherwise tentative first two periods. Giving up the two goals let something loose for the team. Forward Tommy Wingels described it as a type of useful panic:
We played a more energized game in the third. When we kinda got behind you hit the panic button in a good way. But we’ve got to find a way to get those chances and that energy in our game earlier. It’s a work in process now but we can’t keep saying it’s things we’re going to work on. We’ve got to execute it now and see some changes.
Asked whether it stings more to lose to a team that has yet to win in regulation, Logan Couture said:
I think it stings that we’ve lost four in a row. I mean I could care less what the Buffalo Sabres are doing right now. San Jose Sharks have lost four straight games, two at home, and haven’t played well.
It can be difficult to identify important moments in games that are low in both penalties and goals. It could be little things like a puck passed into skates that snuffs out a nice zone entry, or a pass during a power play that ends up leaving the zone via an empty point. It appears that the team is just failing to communicate, again.
Couture mentioned two disappointing plays that he and Patrick Marleau failed to score on:
I didn’t know he was there until I heard the crowd actually. I was looking back. I heard the crowd so I looked up. He’s so fast it’s tough to get an angle to pass to him. It’s my fault on that one. But the other one, two on one, we’ve got to score on that one.
The team seemed constrained and there were definitely some knocks and pings in the engine.
The lines changed very little, if at all, through the game. James Sheppard started on a line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Joe Pavelski started the game on a line with Tomas Hertl and Joe Thornton. Chris Tierney was also back in the lineup, with Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto onhis line. Finally, John Scott, Adam Burish and Andrew Desjardins made up the fourth line.
Of the forward lines, the one that stood out was the third with Tierney, Wingels and Nieto. Of those three, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said:
Unfortunately they were on the ice for a goal but I thought Chris Tierney maybe had his best game for us. Tommy Wingels, Matt Nieto, certainly through the first two periods were our best line.
Through the first two periods, it looked like the team would make it through without giving up too many goals– their stated objective after the last couple of games.
As the first period wound to a close, the Sharks were being outshot 5-6 and the game remained scoreless. The Sharks were winning the faceoff battle 9-3, but there was little else to measure the game by. Neither team dominated in zone time, both were guilty of giving up the puck when they should not have. With 55 seconds left, Andrew Desjardins was called for interference and the Sabres went on a power play.
The Sharks killed off the rest of that penalty to end the period and to start the next one. By the first tv timeout of the second, the shots were 8-7 Sabres. The Sharks’ game lacked excitement but they were still winning faceoffs and had not given up and goals yet.
The Sharks got their first power play when Rasmus Ristolainen went to the box for interference at 11:51 of the second. That power play featured some judgment lapses and communication failures but the Sharks did create some chances.
Possibly the most exciting chance of the period came when Chris Tierney managed to carry the puck behind the Buffalo net and try a wrap-around. It was close and very authoritative but it did not go in.
Buffalo got another late power play at the end of the second when Scott Hannan was called for tripping Chris Stewart. This time, the Sharks’ penalty kill looked much bolder. Two good short-handed chances punctuated the kill, until the Sabres lost their man advantage with a second left in the period. Tyler Ennis went to the box to set the Sharks up for an early power play in the third.
The second period ended with the shots 14-9 San Jose. The Sharks had won 17 faceoffs to the Sabres’ 10.
Wingels and Tierney started the third period with Vlasic and Braun, as the teams were still four on four. 24 seconds later, Wingels was called for holding the stick. That put the Sharks down a man and negated the power play they were anticipating. Burns, Pavelski and Hannan handled the four on three shift and made it back to four on four.
In the four on four play, Andrew Desjardins had the best chance on a breakaway. Sabres clogged the passing lanes but left him with a clear view of Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth stopped him. The penalties expired and the Sabres attacked at even strength.
Cody Hodgson scored his first goal. It looked as if the Sharks simply lost track of Hodgson and he found himself alone with an open net. Assists went to Drew Stafford and Zemgus Girgenson.
The second goal was a little like the first. The puck squeezed through Stalock’s glove side and trickled into the blue paint. No one was there to stop Deslauriers from putting it across the line. Assists went to Cody McCormick and Sam Reinhart.
Finally, the Sharks bit back at 13:50. Brent Burns put it past Neuvirth, as unassisted as it gets. Burns avoided Marcus Foligno at the blue line, carried the puck through the slot to the far boards and took a shot that flew through traffic and past Neuvirth. Buffalo did not lie down after that but the Sharks finally looked like they were in the hunt.
By the time Todd McLellan used his timeout with 1:38 to go, the Sharks had taken as many shots in the period as they had in the previous two combined.
Tommy Wingels led the Sharks in shots with four. John Scott led the team in hits with seven in just 5:52 of ice time. Brent Burns led the team in ice time with 22:30. Alex Stalock made 12 saves on 14 shots.
Lineup notes: Jason Demers was out, Mirco Mueller was in. Tye McGinn and Eriah Hayes were out, John Scott and Chris Tierney were in. Matt Irwin was still in the lineup, paired with Scott Hannan, while Mueller was back with Burns.
The Sharks reassigned Eriah Hayes to the Worcester Sharks of the AHL on Friday. Hayes played four games with the Sharks since his recall on October 18.
From a Sharks press release on Friday:
Sharks Defenseman Brent Burns, often recognized by his untamed hair and mountain-man beard, today announced the return of Burnzie’s Buzzcut for Charity. In an effort to raise funds to support Defending the Blue Line, the Katie Moore Foundation, and the San Francisco Zoo, Burns is going to allow his teammates to give him a buzz cut and shave his beard. From now until November 1st, the Sharks Foundation will be accepting donations at sjsharks.com/buzzcut with the goal of raising $5,000 for each of these worthwhile charities.