Sharks

Things get weird when the Sharks play the Sabres

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AP

Things get weird when the Sharks play the Sabres

The San Jose Sharks didn’t win their first game against the Buffalo Sabres until their fifth try.

That set the tone for a matchup that’s been entirely one-sided since, in favor of the Sabres. It doesn’t matter if they line up against Pat LaFontaine or Jack Eichel, if the Sabres are wearing blue and gold, red and black, or blue and gold again: San Jose has not been able to beat Buffalo consistently.

It’s been the perfect storm, really. Take a small sample size (37 matchups over 25 seasons), throw in the league’s parity, and the sport’s inherent randomness and you get one logic-defying stretch over a quarter-century. 

With that in mind, here are some facts that best epitomize just how much the Sharks have struggled against the Sabres. 

The Sharks have given up four or more goals 20 times 

No team has scored more goals per game against the Sharks than the Sabres (3.79). In 20 of those 37 games, Buffalo has scored four or more goals. It’s hard to win when you give up four goals every other time you play a team. 

And get this: every permanent coach in Sharks history has coached a game in which Buffalo’s scored five or more goals. Even one-year wonders Jim Wiley and Al Sims! It’s essentially a rite of passage at this point.

The Sharks have a losing record when they outshoot the Sabres

Your eyes do not deceive you: San Jose’s outshot Buffalo 18 times, and only won four times. Shots aren’t the end-all, be-all, and there were no doubt games in which Buffalo dominated and the Sharks outshot them after failing to mount a comeback.

But only four wins over that stretch? Meanwhile, the Sabres have had no problem beating the Sharks when they get the edge in shots, winning 10 out of 16 times. 

Are we completely sure there isn’t a curse at play? 

The Sharks have never won consecutive games against the Sabres

This is the granddaddy of them all. The Sharks have simply never pulled off a winning streak against Buffalo.. Last season was the first time they’ve picked up points in consecutive games, losing the first in overtime and winning the second in regulation.

The Sharks have managed to win consecutive games against all but one franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas also didn’t play a game until last week and didn’t exist as a franchise a year-and-a-half ago. 

The Sharks have winning streaks against the old Jets and the new Jets. They have winning streaks against the Coyotes, who were the old Jets, and the Thrashers, who are the new Jets. How absurd is that? 

That can all change tonight at SAP Center, since the Sharks won the last match-up in March. If the history of this series has showed us one thing, though, it’s to expect things to get weird. 

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

Sharks come up short in New York despite Couture's hat trick

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Anders Lee had two goals and an assist to lead the New York Islanders to a 5-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

John Tavares had a goal and two assists, Josh Bailey added a goal and an assist, and Andrew Ladd also scored to help the Islanders win for the third time in four games. Thomas Greiss stopped 28 shots.

Logan Couture scored all three goals for the Sharks, completing the hat trick with 1:52 remaining to pull them within one. Aaron Dell finished with 18 saves.

Ladd's goal at 3:12 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie. Rookie Mathew Barzal created the scoring chance by taking the puck around the net and then setting up Ladd in the high slot for his second of the season.

Lee's second of the game and fifth of the season gave the Islanders a two-goal cushion with 8:13 remaining as he converted an odd-man rush.

Tavares sealed the win with an empty-netter with 55.4 seconds remaining and helped improve to 22-4-4 in their two-plus seasons at Barclays Center. Tavares points were his first since he had two goals and an assist Oct. 7 against Buffalo, ending a five-game drought.

The Sharks scored the game's opening goal at 6:26 of the second period on the power play. San Jose came away with the offensive draw and Couture scored from the slot, redirected Brent Burns' point shot past Greiss.

The lead lasted just over a minute as Nick Leddy worked his way to the back of the net and then quickly fed Lee for the tying goal.

The Islanders went ahead 58 seconds later after Joe Thornton made a costly turnover in his own end to give Bailey a point-blank chance. Bailey was able to sneak the puck with a backhander between his skates and past Dell to put New York ahead 2-1.

However, an impressive effort by Jannik Hansen to spin past Brock Nelson in the neutral zone led to a quick feed to Couture, who took a few strides and then fired a shot past Greiss to even the score once again.

NOTES: The Islanders held a special pregame ceremony to honor alumni of the organization who were in town for an Islanders Alumni Weekend. Among the players on the ice were Bobby Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier and Ed Westfall. ... The Islanders scratched D Scott Mayfield, F Josh Ho-Sang and F Nikulay Kulemin. ... San Jose scratched F Joel Ward, F Barclay Goodrow and D Dylan Demelo. ... The Islanders honored Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie by playing music from the band during warmups. Downie passed away on Oct. 17 after succumbing to brain cancer.

UP NEXT

Sharks: At the New York Rangers on Monday night.

Islanders: Host Arizona on Tuesday night.

Recovered from injuries, Joonas Donskoi returning to form just in time for Sharks

Recovered from injuries, Joonas Donskoi returning to form just in time for Sharks

Joonas Donskoi’s first goal of the season all but sealed the Sharks’ 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

It was also a long time coming, too. The Finnish forward finished a chance for the first time in 28 regular season games, 33 if you include his goal-less postseason. He last scored on January 7, when Patrick Marleau was a Shark and San Jose still held a share of the Pacific Division lead.

He struggled mightily after that, largely due to injury. Donskoi separated his shoulder not once, but twice last season, and revealed to The Athletic this week that he also dealt with “foot issues.” He spent over a month on injured reserve and managed just three assists in his final 22 games as a result.

With health on his side, Donskoi’s returned to his rookie year form. Through six games, he's registered three points, all at even strength. That’s tied with Joe Pavelski for the team lead, despite the fact he’s played nearly four minutes less per game at even strength than the captain.

He’s done a lot in less ice time, scoring five-on-five points at a higher rate per 60 minutes than any player on the team, according to Natural Stat Trick. He’s done a lot against lesser competition, too, taking advantage of his assignments in Peter DeBoer’s bottom six forward group.

That’s an important development, given the disappearance of San Jose’s depth scoring last season. Only four Sharks forwards cracked 40 points last season, and one of them is in Toronto. Most damning, though, is that the same number managed to score 30 or more points last year. The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, by contrast, had eight forwards score 30 points in the regular season.

It’s still early in the season, but Donskoi’s underlying numbers indicate this level of play is built to last. His personal shooting percentage is below his career-high, and the Sharks are scoring on a reasonable 6.52% of their shots with Donskoi on the ice in five-on-five situations. That’s only half-a-percentage point higher than San Jose’s rate during Donskoi’s injury-riddled 2016-17.

Donskoi will undoubtedly hit some bumps in the road, but after struggling so much last season, it appears the 25-year-old is back on track. If the Sharks are to improve on last season, they desperately need depth scorers.

Thanks to Donskoi’s resurgence, they just might have found one.