The last time a blockbuster trade went down immediately before the Buffalo Sabres hosted the San Jose Sharks in a hockey game, the Sharks notched their only win ever in upstate New York. History looked poised to repeat itself eight years and change after Joe Thornton played his first game in a San Jose uniform, as the Sabres pulled the trigger on a headline-grabbing deal sending face of the franchise Ryan Miller to St. Louis minutes before tonight's contest. Unfortunately for the Sharks, things didn't turn out quite as well as they did in December 2005.
There's an old adage that you're never as good as you look in wins and never as bad as you appear in defeat, and it's one the Sharks and their fans could probably take to heart right about now. Twenty-four hours after walloping the Flyers, who aren't exactly world-beaters but are currently occupying a playoff spot in the East, 7-3 the Sharks fell 4-2 to the worst team in hockey in a game played just after that team traded away its best player and starting goaltender.
The win for Buffalo completes the Sabres' inexplicable season sweep of the Sharks, although this result featured a lot less controversy than the last one in which a Tommy Wingels would-be overtime winner was completely missed by the on-ice officials. This game was a clear-cut Sharks loss as the team came undone in the third period of their second consecutive night of hockey, allowing goals to Brian Flynn and Matt Moulson that broke open a 1-1 deadlock through forty minutes.
Just like in Philadelphia, San Jose's best period was their second. Unlike in Philadelphia, that period didn't lead to the Sharks scoring five goals. Instead they were limited to a lone tally by James "Def" Sheppard, who drew back into the lineup with Matt Nieto a healthy scratch and Raffi Torres resting up on his long route back from knee surgery. They did dictate play territorially, outshooting Buffalo 18-5, but it wasn't enough to sneak more than the one past Jhonas Enroth, who pulled his best Ryan Miller impression.
A miscommunication off a faceoff Adam Burish was thrown out of the circle for led to Zemgus Girgensons winning the draw back to an open Flynn four and a half minutes into the third, giving the Sabres their second one-goal lead of the night. Burish once again figured prominently on the goal that upped Buffalo's lead to two as defenseman Tyler Myers waltzed around the veteran forward at the right point before finding an unguarded Matt Moulson in the slot, who had peeled free of Matt Irwin's check.
There's a lot of blame to go around for this one, as there should be when a team that fancies itself a Cup contender loses to the worst team in the NHL for the second time in a season. Antti Niemi certainly wasn't good, with Cody Hodgson's power play goal that opened the scoring in the first period decidedly one Niemi, as they say, would like to have back. The top line of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns was largely missing in action, especially at even-strength, with Pavelski in particular registering just one shot on goal. And then there's the coaching staff who inexplicably took Nieto out of the lineup rather than Burish or Mike Brown and continued to use Burish, who could barely cut it as a 4th-line winger last season, as their third-line center.
But, ultimately, the greatest blame rests with Doug Wilson. The Sharks have won one game in Buffalo in franchise history and it was the first game of the Thornton era. Wilson's refusal to trade three bit pieces for a 25-year-old superstar center every time his team visits upstate New York is clearly the primary reason they haven't won there since.
- If there's a positive to be taken from this game (and it should be noted the Sharks didn't play poorly until a third period collapse, for whatever that's worth against a depleted Sabres squad) it's that Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Marty Havlat continue to look terrific together and were probably their most dangerous trio offensively.
- Havlat in particular looks dialed in; there was a sequence in the second period where he backchecked to disrupt an attempted Sabres rush through the neutral zone and stickhandled his way around three Sabres stationed at their defensive blueline to enter the offensive zone and create a shot attempt. For as long as he can stay healthy, he's a perfect fit on that line.
Steve Ott was also part of that Miller trade, as the Blues continue their quest to collect every dirtbag in the league, but what struck me most about his between-periods press conference is how much he looks like Alan Tudyk. Seriously:
If his locker room nickname isn't Steve The Pirate, I'll be disappointed.
- Not to harp on it, but how does having Burish center the third line even get discussed among the coaching staff? I think Todd McLellan and Larry Robinson are really bright hockey minds, and I've defended them a lot in the past, but I'm not sure why they can't figure out a way to dress a better bottom six than the one we saw tonight with the forward talent they have at their disposal. It hurts to take Pavelski off the top line with the way he's producing but there's no one who comes close to him as a viable third-line center option. Better to have a slightly less effective top line and a great bottom six rather than the current setup in my opinion.
- Tyler Myers' name has been discussed in trade rumors (as has pretty much everyone else on the Sabres, so that's no surprise) so perhaps that was what fired him up but, whatever the case, he played what may have been his best game in two years. Even beyond the goal and assist (which was beautiful), he was a two-way force all night long; at even-strength, shot attempts were 16-7 Buffalo when he was on the ice and 51-18 San Jose when he was on the bench.
- There was a sequence that comes to mind where Myers denied a Brent Burns breakaway attempt, recovered the resulting loose puck from behind his net then rushed it the full length of the ice surface, swooping around Antti Niemi before sending the puck back to the point for...John Scott, who immediately flubbed the shot attempt. On second thought, maybe Myers' showing was more a cry for help.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Jhonas Enroth
2nd Star: Tyler Myers
3rd Star: Matt Moulson