The San Jose Sharks accomplished something they had not managed since their fourth game of the 2015-16 NHL season Saturday, Nov. 14—consecutive wins. After continuing their dominance of the Detroit Red Wings Friday came a road win over the Buffalo Sabres that was the second in franchise history and first in nine tries.
Great goaltending and timely goals from the pictured Sharks made the difference during the two-game set, both of which saw the opposition spend more time on the attack. If helping the team get wins over the Red Wings and Sabres to open its second Eastern Conference road trip of the 2015-16 NHL season is cake, the timing is icing.
This team has been floundering since losing Logan Couture and really needed to get on the plus side of the scoreboard. The wins are indeed an air freshener to cover up the stink of losing, but they came against the Eastern Conference and the two top problems of the 2015-16 NHL season were each featured in one of the two—at least it was not both as happened often while losing eight of 11.
San Jose gave up a goal before the first television timeout for the seventh time in eight games Friday in Detroit: Niklas Kronwall got the puck to Dylan Larkin to skate unimpeded into the offensive zone and throw a cross-ice feed to Tomas Tatar to rocket over the shoulder of Martin Jones 3:13 into the game.
However, the Sharks recovered and got a goal back when Matt Tennyson got hold of a puck in the defensive zone and hit Joe Thornton for a semi-breakaway opportunity. Drew Miller kept his shot to one weak and wide, but staying with it eventually resulted in a chance for Melker Karlsson to poke it over Jimmy Howard’s pads and under his glove.
The goal was Karlsson’s first of the 2015-16 NHL season, and his return to the top line has helped in the absence of Logan Couture. One change so far in the Eastern Conference road trip is trying Patrick Marleau at the second-line center, bumping Tomas Hertl down to the third and Chris Tierney down to the fourth. It looked initially like it may have been working.
Just over two minutes before intermission, San Jose struck again as Marc-Edouard Vlasic sent a point-to-point feed to Brenden Dillon for a slap-shot wide right. The puck caromed around to the other side and Matt Nieto scooped it up, circled behind the net, threw a shot on goal and lifted the rebound over Howard before there was any chance to reset.
The Sharks put some insurance on the board midway through the second when Paul Martin got the puck from Justin Braun and sent a shot-pass left of the net for Joe Pavelski to deflect home. The Red Wings were not able to answer until the final two minutes of the game with Howard pulled for the extra attacker: Jakob Kindl got the puck from Tatar and fed Teemu Pulkkinen for a blast through a screen with 1:54 left, but the hosts could not get the game-tying goal.
On Saturday in Buffalo, it was San Jose scoring early. The struggling power play found a little rhythm as Brent Burns got the puck to Pavelski who fed Vlasic for a shot from the point through traffic 1:48 into the game.
The Sharks were not only able to keep the Sabres from scoring early, but held them to one score overall: Rasmus Rostolainen got the puck into the offensive zone where Ryan O’Reilly managed to get control before slapping a blast into the corner over Jones to give former Shark Tank blue-liner Josh Gorges a secondary assist.
San Jose’s recurring problem in this game was an inability to score against an unimpressive goalie: Chad Johnson turned away 29 straight shots in getting his team to overtime before Tomas Hertl fed Vlasic for a shot off the post that Patrick Marleau was able to put home 2:59 into the three-on-three overtime.
Problems aside, the team crawls above .500 on the 2015-16 NHL season with the wins in Detroit and Buffalo to acquire the third-best point percentage in the weak Pacific Division. There are four more games through the Eastern Conference before the trip ends, but the Sharks are now 6-3-0 away from home with three consecutive road wins to build upon.