The Sharks finished up their east coast road trip in Buffalo today after a 2-2 record on the road so far. With Chris Tierney leading in faceoffs and Logan Couture on a hot streak with six goals and three assists in five games, the Sharks needed a win in Buffalo. Meanwhile, the Sabres were looking for a win of their own to cap off celebrating Jack Eichel’s 21st birthday and the birth of Robin Lehner’s second child last night.
The first 20 minutes were off to a roaring start, as Brent Burns had a beautiful shot on goal in the first two minutes. While there was no conversion on his play, the Sharks continued to press hard in the first ten minutes of the period. Despite this being the end to a long road trip, the Sharks were firing on all cylinders, with passes connecting smoothly and multiple shots on goal for Joakim Ryan, Kevin Labanc, and Ryan Carpenter. Joonas Donskoi scored on a screamer of a breakaway at 9:12. He has a goal in each of the games the Sharks have won on this east coast road trip.
At 2:48, Jack Eichel notched a goal past Dell, but before Eichel could blow out the candles on his birthday celly, Pete DeBoer issued a coach’s challenge on the goal, citing goaltender interference. Upon reviewing the footage, the situation room in Toronto and the officials both agreed that the challenge was valid - no goal.
After Eichel’s goal was rescinded, the Sabres returned to their power play. The Sharks tallied eight penalty minutes over the Sabres’ two in the first. This matchup is always chippy, but the Sharks need to be careful of drawing too many penalties. The audience’s boos filled the stadium as the Sabres continued to push hard at Aaron Dell for another goal. No dice for them, however. The Sharks defense was definitely tighter than in previous games with eight shots blocked and eight hits in the first twenty minutes. The physicality of the Sharks was more apparent, with the puck almost exclusively in the Sabres’ zone for the first half of the period. While the Sabres swarmed the Sharks zone in the final three minutes of the period, the Sharks defensive pairings were able to shut down Jordan Nolan and Kyle Okposo’s final shots on goal.
While the end of the first saw a great defensive showing from the Sharks, the start of the second saw a penalty on Joel Ward at the minute and a half mark. This set the Sharks back on their heels as the Sabres pressed hard for the first ten in the Sharks’ own end. Dell displayed his preternatural goalie instincts of tracking the puck and stopping every shot - until 2:55 when Ryan O’Reilly banked one behind him on the power play. The Sharks’ commentator Randy Hahn definitely put his finger on it by saying, “Stay. Out. Of. The. Box!” If the Sharks look to climb the standings in the next few weeks, they need to work on avoiding the penalty box, especially at the start of the period, as Buffalo had recorded four power plays total by the halfway mark of the second period.
The Sharks answered with a power play of their own however, after Victor Antipin was called for interference on Joe Pavelski. The Sharks were unable to convert on the man advantage, further highlighting the work that needs to be done on their special teams. Buffalo took the lead in the game, 2-1, at 5:09 with a goal from Jason Pominville after good pressure on the forecheck by Eichel.
The Sharks bounced back three minutes later on a power play called for hooking by Evander Kane. The 5-on-4 seemed to fuel the Sharks, as they drove the play to the front of the Buffalo net almost exclusively for the next two minutes. While unable to convert on the man advantage, seconds after Kane exited the box, Chris Tierney sank a goal behind Lehner. Melker Karlsson and Timo Meier picked up the assists on his goal and the Sharks tied up the score 2-2 with 12 seconds left in the period.
Joonas Donskoi led off the final 20 with a shot in the first two minutes, but no goal. He had an impressive night in Buffalo, making his presence known at every point on the ice. Dell executed a high glove save, displaying those uncanny goalie instincts once more. As the clock ticked toward the final ten, the game turned fast and things got chippy.
The Sharks out-shot the Sabres throughout the third with attempts by Brenden Dillon, Tierney, Burns, Labanc, and Joe Pavelski, but no red light in sight. Buffalo went on the power play at 7:39 from the interference call on Couture and Dell blocked a short shot from Eichel. Dell showed up to win tonight with a few high glove saves, a stick save, and several right in the bread basket. Giving Jones the scratch to rest proved fruitful not only for Dell, but for the team.
Couture caught the puck in the fourth minute from Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun and fought at the boards for it, before burying it in the net at 3:52. That short-side top corner goal over Lehner’s shoulder is Couture’s eighth of the season and his fifth of this road trip. His goal tipped the scales in the Sharks’ favor, earning them their third win in Buffalo and their first since November 2015.
While the Sharks’ special teams still need some fine-tuning, their defensive pairings held down the fort for most of the game, earning them the final win of this first road trip. The goals came from the top three lines for the Sharks with 33 shots on goal throughout the game and the lineup played a physical sixty minutes with 17 blocked shots and 15 hits.
The Sharks will fly back to San Jose tonight and play Toronto on Monday at 7:30 pm PST.