The CSN California broadcast made note of how dominant the San Jose Sharks have been on road trips and against the Eastern Conference during the 2015-16 NHL season all night Friday, Feb. 26. Perhaps that was to distract the audience from the fact that a different history was involved in playing the Buffalo Sabres at home.
Instead, the pictured stars ensured two other trends were renewed: Buffalo had not lost head-to-head game in this series in the decade preceding the 2015-16 NHL season and San Jose also had just 30 wins in its last 79 non-preseason home games dating back to the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Sharks had seemed to turn both around. They beat the Sabres in November and had earned points in their last nine at home (6-0-3). This game even started off on the right skate, with Marc-Edouard Vlasic putting a Matt Nieto feed through traffic behind Chad Johnson just 88 seconds into the game.
That was the last goal San Jose would get, but they were at least controlling play well into the second period. Then the type of sloppy play that is repeatedly an issue for this team against lesser competition and recently at home happened with over six minutes to go before the final intermission.
Roman Polak—who led both teams with eight hits, added two blocks and five shots on seven attempts in another fine performance with his new team—passed the puck across the defensive zone harmlessly to his partner. Brenden Dillon took his eyes off it and ended up back-skating away as it eluded his stick.
Buffalo captain Brian Gionta scooped it up on his way toward the net and forced it to the crease off Johan Larsson, who then made a diving poke-check home to tie the game. Dillon missed an open net from the high slot later that could have made up for the mistake.
Ultimately though, the Sharks lost because they never adjusted. When the puck kept bouncing and players were even losing their feet, they kept trying to make the plays instead of simplifying the game.
With 7:24 to go, the Sabres took the lead with their simpler game of getting pucks towards the net. Zemgus Gergensons moved the puck from Sam Reinhart to Zach Bogosian for a shot Martin Jones may not have seen.
Buffalo sealed the game with 77 seconds left when the puck would not settle with Jones pulled, as Bogosian got the puck to Evander Kane moving through the neutral zone for the empty-net goal. This just goes up as another San Jose loss in a game in which the event summary shows more time on attack: 27-21 faceoffs, 11-7 giveaways, 9-6 takeaways, 23-30 hits, 25-22 shots, 56-42 attempts and 10-18 blocks.
The loss moves the Sharks two games behind the Anaheim Ducks for second place in the Pacific Division. Both teams have 22 games left on their 2015-16 NHL season—including one against each other.
A visit with the Vancouver Canucks Sunday is followed by a game at home Monday against the Montreal Canadiens. San Jose got help for the back-to-back games in another trade, essentially trading backup goalies.
The Sharks get James Reimer and AHL forward Jeremy Morin for a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2018, Alex Stalock and reserve forward Ben Smith—likely to be promoted to the Toronto Maple Leafs quickly. This is probably general manager Doug Wilson’s last significant move before the 2015-16 NHL season trade deadline Monday at noon PST.
Wilson should be commended for shoring up blue-line and backup goalie deficiencies for a Stanley Cup run. Stalock was loved by his teammates but gave up at least three goals in seven of 10 starts (3-5-2, .884 save percentage and 2.94 goals-against average). Reimer was good enough to start 29 games, going just 11-12-7 with a bad Toronto team but had a respectable .918 save percentage and 2.49 goals-against average.