There are probably casual fans out there who only watch Sharks games and otherwise pay little attention to the league under the impression that the Buffalo Sabres, particularly the Sabres teams of these past two seasons, are some sort of world-beating juggernaut.
The Sabres aren't, of course. In fact they're arguably one of the worst non-expansion NHL teams ever assembled. But with their 4-1 win over San Jose tonight they've won eight straight games against the Sharks including a perfect 4-0 record spanning from the start of the 2013-14 season, when they finished dead last, through to this year, where they're a great bet to once again finish dead last. In fact Buffalo has just three regulation wins on the season and two of them have come against the Sharks.
For a while it seemed like this game would be different. The Sharks didn't allow a shot on goal until fourteen minutes into the first period and generated chances at the other end, including a Tomas Hertl deflection that sailed just wide and a would-be Justin Braun shorthanded goal waved off for incidental goaltender contact. But the wheels came off in the second as San Jose committed a slew of mental errors that led to odd-man rushes against, accentuated by Matt Irwin's ill-timed pinch with less than 20 seconds remaining in the middle frame that allowed Brian Flynn to cash in a 2-on-1 and give the Sabres a two-goal lead.
Despite everything, it's probably still too early to definitively judge the Sharks. This loss ended a stretch of 16 road contests in their first 21 games of the season; they'll play 11 of their next 13 (as well as 36 of their final 61 overall games) at the Tank where they've been historically dominant. If they're still alternating impressive and head-scratching efforts after that span, it's worth getting concerned. It's hard to call San Jose a bad team at the season's quarter pole as they've had their share of inspiring performances. But they simply haven't been able to string those together with any sort of consistency, which is the mark of a contender. So far, through an admittedly road-heavy 21 games, the Sharks certainly don't look like a contender.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Brian Gionta
2nd Star: Brian Flynn
3rd Star: Rasmus Ristolainen