SAN JOSE -- The Sharks might've tallied their third straight win on Wednesday night by beating a tough Carolina Hurricanes team. But their work against tough Eastern Conference competition has only begun.
Saturday night's contest marks the start of a six-game stretch against teams from the other side of the country, which starts with a home-and-home the Sharks will play against the conference-leading Buffalo Sabres.
That's right. The Sabres have command of the east at the moment. And the offensive weapons they'll bring to the next two games are sure to challenge some areas where San Jose has been at its weakest -- getting hemmed in their own zone and giving opponents too many chances.
Buffalo isn't leading the entire league with 13 points by accident. Through their first eight games of the 2019-20 season, they've outscored their opponents 29-18 and have a power play that has found the back of the net 11 times in 31 attempts so far.
Part of that success is because Victor Olofsson is tied for first in the league with six points per game on the young season. But the Sabres are also getting set-up help from Rasmus Dahlin, a ten-goal boost from captain Jack Eichel, and an offensive jolt from winger Jeff Skinner who continues to roll after posting a career-best 40 goals last season.
Add to it that netminder Carter Hutton is leading the league with a 1.39 goals-against average and .953 save percentage and you have the makings of a team on a red-hot start.
Not to mention one that will put the Sharks to the test.
The Sharks weren't completely satisfied with the effort they put on the ice last Wednesday against Carolina, especially in the first period when they were heavily pinned into their own end of the ice and got outshot 16-7. Despite scoring two power-play goals in that first frame San Jose knew that their penalty kill was the reason the Hurricanes weren't able to take the game over in the second stanza when the score was just 3-1.
After the win, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer gave a lot of credit to Martin Jones in helping keep the Canes from taking the game over, especially with their power play. "Your goalie's always your best penalty killer," he said. "(Jones) was really solid. I thought in that first period [the score] could've been 3-3."
But the Sharks don't just need another big performance in the net on Saturday. They'll need to find a way to take the ice away from the Sabres and minimize their chances.
Needless to say, San Jose has to find a way to get more zone time against in their first period against the Sabres than they did in their first 20 against the Hurricanes. With an average 30.6 shots per game, Buffalo is winning games whether they outshoot their opponents or not -- not to mention being 6-1-0 when they score the first goal. San Jose might've caught a break in their last game by having a rough first period overshadowed by Evander Kane's hat trick and some killer saves on Jones' end, but they'll have to work harder to get out of their zone against a Buffalo team that's finding the back of the net early and often.
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This isn't to say it's all doom and gloom for the Sharks. They've cleaned a lot of things up over their last three games, getting big contributions from their special teams as well as from their goaltending.
Getting positive contributions from all of those areas when they face off against the red-hot Sabres is really going to be the key.