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Sabres at Sharks Preview: How to build off a shorthanded win

While the team remains shorthanded due to the COVID protocol list, the Sharks are still hoping that they can grab a win over Buffalo, however it is going to need to be a team effort.

Marcus Johansson #90 of the Buffalo Sabres battles Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks during an NHL game on October 22, 2019 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. Buffalo won, 4-3. Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

When it was announced that the San Jose Sharks were losing multiple key players and their head coach to the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol for Friday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets, many fans were preparing for a big loss for the team. However, they managed to pull off an upset in overtime, and tonight they’ll look to do it again against the Buffalo Sabres.

Andrew Cogliano was taken off of the COVID list yesterday afternoon, but Kevin Labanc was subsequently placed on it today, as Jonathan Dahlen came off. Everyone else remained on it. It’s not completely clear if anybody will be cleared ahead of the game, however if not, the Sharks will be without Matt Nieto, Erik Karlsson, Jake Middleton, Radim Simek, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Kevin Labanc and head coach Bob Boughner.

Along with COVID-related roster changes, captain Logan Couture, who was never on the Protocol but was scratched due to being sick, has been cleared to play tonight as well.

In replacement of the players listed, we saw many players make their season debuts with the Sharks, and it may give the team more options to decide upon when everybody is healthy depending on how they do in that time period.

On the forward core, some of the new faces that we may continue to see tonight include John Leonard and Nick Merkley. Leonard was a regular in the line up last season, but began this season with the Barracuda in the American Hockey League, while Merkley was an off-season addition via trade, and played his first game with the Sharks on Saturday.

The defensive core is completely changed, as four of the six defenders as of right now are not regular players. While a defense of Jaycob Megna, Ryan Merkley, Santeri Hatakka, and Nicolas Meloche may not look great, they managed to allow just one goal against Winnipeg’s star-studded offense, thanks to some goaltending help.

An interesting question that may come for the Sharks coaching staff is who the starting goaltender is going forward. It started with Adin Hill, but he has struggled and James Reimer’s elite play has been enough to make this a pretty big debate.

Hill, who the Sharks had hoped to develop into a full-time starting goaltender in the NHL, has proven to be limited due to his mobility issues and skating holding him back. He currently holds a 3-2-0 record to go with an .893 save percentage (SV%) and -2.04 goals saved above expectation (GSAx). Meanwhile, Reimer, who was brought in with relatively low expectations — simply be a better back up goaltender than the team had last year — has shattered them, showcasing a 2-1-0 record along with a .964 SV% and 5.00 GSAx.

It may be too early to call Reimer the new starter, but maybe give him the chance against Buffalo to keep building off of this momentum?

On the Sabres’ front, they’ve been quite impressive to start the season. They hold a 5-2-1 record, placing them at second place in the Atlantic Division, and eighth place leaguewide. Note that this is all without former captain Jack Eichel, who is awaiting a trade at the moment.

Expect Craig Anderson to get the start in net for the Sabres. He has taken the very low expectations the team had at the start of the season and absolutely ran away with them. He holds a 4-1-0 record, along with his .939 SV% and 1.57 GSAx. It’s an incredible story to watch if you’re an NHL fan, especially considering he was the third-string goaltender in Washington last season, and was considering retirement until he was contacted by the Sabres who had interest in him joining as a veteran leader for a young rebuilding team.

The leading scorer on the Sabres is Victor Olofsson, who has posted 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) through eight games. He has had an impressive season for somebody who has been described as a player who heavily relied on the power play and the assistance of Jack Eichel to produce, and he has squashed both of those narratives along the way.

Can the Sharks get going at home?

The Sharks are 2-1-0 on the season at home, but have been outscored 8-6 in the process. The team needs to use the presence of their fans, which they missed all of last season, to their advantage when it comes using their energy to pump out offensive chances.

Look for guys who thrive off of the fans, like Tomas Hertl, to get things going tonight.

Heavy minutes for Ferraro & Burns

On Saturday, Brent Burns logged 29:04 minutes, with Mario Ferraro closely following with 25:32. Expect that again from the pairing tonight. With key pieces like Karlsson and Middleton out, they don’t have much depth to rely on, and they’ll want to ensure defensive stability in their own zone.

This isn’t a knock on the other four defensemen, but none of them are NHL regulars at this time, and between the four of them, the next highest time on ice came from Hatakka, who was on the ice for 16:21.

How long until we see production from Nick Bonino?

I know I have stated this before, but at some point the Sharks are going to need to assess the lack of production from Nick Bonino.

Bonino’s always been a defense-first player, but it’s disheartening to see that he is still held without a point through eight games, despite logging an average of 17:30 time on ice per game. He currently ranks fourth-last on the Sharks in goals above replacement, mainly due to his even-strength offensive GAR, which ranks second-last on the team at -1.10.

The Sharks need all four lines to do their share on both sides of the ice, and all have except for Bonino’s, as harsh as that may be.