Buffalo - November 18, 2014 -
Who: San Jose Sharks
Where: First Niagra Center, Buffalo, NY
Know thine enemy: The Sharks are a hard team to figure out at this point. They’re kind of treading water at 10-8-2, fifth in the Pacific Division but just four points out of the top spot. Inexplicably, the Sharks are 0-6-1 against the Sabres going back to January of 2010 and I honestly have no words for that. If there’s any reason at all to tear things down and give up in San Jose, that should be at the top of the list.
Offensively, they’re somewhat deep: there are a half-dozen guys with at least 10 points, led by Joe Thornton (18 points), Joe Pavelski (17 points) and Brent Burns (17 points). They get a little help from the back end all six defensemen have at least three points, led by the aforementioned Burns and Justin Braun with seven assists, so they’re capable of pouring it on at any moment.
In net, they’re still trying to figure things out. Rookie Troy Grosenick stopped 45 shots against Carolina in his first career NHL start, earning the shutout. Incumbent starter Antti Niemi hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been good either. His 7-6-1 record, 2.61 goals against average and .917 save percentage suggest something leaning towards quality, but the wins aren’t quite there as the Sharks hoped.
About the Sabres: The Sabres are the kings of the castle right now. Not only did they win(!!) on Saturday, they beat the awful, awful Maple Leafs and poured it on by scoring six times. Honestly, it’s been really hard to ignore just how bad this team has been this year, but beating the Leafs so badly makes it all okay.
Back in the real world, this team is still god awful. They can’t really seem to score, and when they do it’s one of three guys doing the scoring. Defensively, they’re just as hideous, giving up 30+ shots per night on a good night and 50+ when they’re “off”.
Thankfully, the goalies have been a treat to watch this year despite facing grim circumstances. Michal Neuvirth will get the start tonight and continues to play well despite impossible odds. He mad 32 stops in the win over the Leafs and is one of the few reasons the Sabres team goals against average isn’t much higher than the 3.53 it currently is.
The last time these two met: Inexplicably, the Sabres went into the Shark Tank back in October and walked out with a rare win. Neuvirth was outstanding in that one, turning aside 29 of 30 shots, allowing the Sabres to score two quick goals in the first six minutes of the third period to grab the lead for good.
The Sharks were simply outworked by the Sabres, who despite only putting 15 shots on net, made the most of their opportunities.
The part where I predict things: Saturday was an illusion and the winning streak that’s lasted nearly five years comes to an end tonight. The Sharks are the better, more talented team and unless they come into this one completely unmotivated, they can probably sleepwalk through this one and still come out victorious.
Score: 4-1 Sharks
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