SAN JOSE – Apparently sick and tired of not having any success against Buffalo, the Sharks controlled much of Tuesday night’s game against the Sabres in a 4-1 win. Here are our three takeaways from the game, as San Jose has now won three of the first four games on its longest homestand of the season…
1 – The Sharks have pretty much clinched the division
The Sharks (42-20-7, 91 points) have opened up a mammoth nine-point lead on the rest of the Pacific Division. Second place Calgary and Anaheim have 82 points apiece, tied for second place. Every team has 13 games remaining.
Even if the Sharks post just a .500 winning percentage the rest of the way, they’ll finish with 104 points. For the Flames or Ducks to catch them in that scenario, they would have to post a record along the lines of 11-1-1 over their final 13.
No one in the Sharks’ dressing room would say that the race is over, of course.
“We’re not taking anything for granted here, we want to keep winning hockey games,” Martin Jones said. “We’re trying to play for playoffs here. Just got to keep building our game.”
The Sharks are setting their sights on Chicago (93 points) and Minnesota (92 points) instead, assuring home ice advantage throughout the first three rounds.
Pete DeBoer said: “We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball, and that's winning as many games as possible, make sure we're playing the right way heading into the playoffs, and tracking down the teams ahead of us. There's no doubt [the division lead is] nice, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do."
San Jose has not won the Pacific Division since 2011. Anaheim has won it each of the last four seasons, while the Coyotes claimed it in 2012.
2 – Jones benefiting from extra rest
Perhaps no one on the Sharks’ roster, other than maybe captain Joe Pavelski, looks more rejuvenated coming out of the bye week than Jones. The Sharks’ number one netminder has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his last seven starts, and made another 22 saves on Tuesday against Buffalo.
Jones has been getting more rest than usual even after the bye week, as Aaron Dell has started three of the last seven games and figures to get at least four or five more starts before the end of the regular season.
Jones’ biggest save on Tuesday came in the third period, when he sealed his five-hole on a Jack Eichel on a breakaway and Pavelski increased the Sharks’ lead to 3-1 just after that.
“He’s got a lot speed,” Jones said of the Sabres’ young forward. “Our guy was kind of flat-footed, [Eichel] took it to the net. He didn’t have a lot of time or space, so just tried to make sure there wasn’t any holes there.”
The Sharks didn't surrender many prime scoring chances on Jones, as the puck was in their offensive zone for the majority of the night.
“We were in and out of our end pretty quick,” Dylan DeMelo said. “We got in on the forecheck and turned some pucks over, sustained some pretty good O-zone time. The shot totals obviously speak for that.”
3 – Haley adds more than the game-winning goal
Micheal Haley clearly got lucky on his second period goal that put the Sharks up to stay, but he also offered some insight on his more notable role of keeping things honest out there.
In the game’s first minute, Buffalo’s Evander Kane hammered Justin Braun on the forecheck, shaking up the Sharks’ defenseman. Haley found himself on the ice with Kane a few shifts later, and decided to remind Kane that he was in the active lineup, too.
“I was just letting him know that there’s two sides to each team. I can start running people, too,” Haley said. “It was fine, it was nothing. It was just a big hit to start the game, and when I went on [the ice] he was there, so I thought we’d have a little chat.”
Did play calm down after that?
“I think so. I don’t know. I didn’t see anymore big ones,” Haley said.
A good reminder for the advanced stats-only crowd that the game isn’t played in a vacuum, eh?