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Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in streak-snapping 4-3 loss to Sabres

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SAN JOSE - The Sharks' first standoff of the season against the Sabres was a fast-paced and tight-checking fete that saved most of its drama for the last 20 minutes of play.

But even with a couple of third-period goals to keep things interesting, Team Teal couldn't quite pull this one off against the visiting Buffalo squad and dropped the final game of their homestand 4-3.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game:

Going to the net

The Sharks might have been better on the defensive side of their game, particularly in their own end. But they struggled throughout Saturday's contest with getting in front of Buffalo's net and generating good shots. In fact, San Jose only tallied one shot on goal through nearly 13 minutes in the second period.

You do have to give San Jose's offense credit for turning it up in the latter part of the game, though. After Casey Mittelstadt's bizarre goal gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead, the Sharks turned things up and notch. They not only got more o-zone time but had a much better net-front presence. It's no wonder they were able to knot the score back up twice in the third period -- even if they weren't able to score the tie-breaking goal and get the win.

Going in for the kill

One of the biggest tests for the Sharks in Saturday's game was to stay out of the penalty box, given they were going up against one of the best power plays in the league. So, naturally, it was a bit of a nail-biter when San Jose got into a little penalty trouble in the second period.

San Jose did succeed in silencing Buffalo's power play, even if it wasn't very pretty. While Martin Jones wasn't quite as sharp on Saturday as he has been as of late, the team in front of him did a good job of halting the Sabres on the man advantage.

[RELATED: Marleau reflects on Sharks return]

The kid was all right

Noah Gregor didn't score a goal on Saturday night -- even though his new teammates tried to set him up for one. The 21-year-old forward did, however, have a good showing in his NHL debut, displaying a ton of speed as if he was already completely accustomed to the pace of a big-league game.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said on Saturday morning that he would prefer it if one of San Jose's young players would seize the opportunity to be a regular on the team's fourth line with Dylan Gambrell and Melker Karlsson. Gregor only has one game under his belt, but he is already making a good case to stick around for a while.

Sharks' Evander Kane pushes growth of hockey at Oakland middle school

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Sharks' Evander Kane pushes growth of hockey at Oakland middle school

OAKLAND -- In a place like the greater Bay Area where so many sports reign supreme and twigs and pucks aren't easy to come by, hockey isn't usually the first sport a middle schooler will gravitate toward.

When Evander Kane asked a room full of students at Westlake Middle School in Oakland how many of them had ever played ice hockey, not too many hands were raised. 

But Kim Davis, NHL Executive VP of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives, and Legislative Affairs, believes that can change. And after an afternoon when students played a little pick-up hockey on the school blacktop with Kane himself, she told NBC Sports California that she sees potential to grow the game.

"Just listening to the kids inside being asked 'Who's your favorite player? Who's your favorite team?' Tomorrow, they'll have answers to that because of what happened here today," Davis said Monday afternoon as a gaggle of middle-schoolers on the inflatable-barricaded rink in front of her cheered as one scored a goal. 

That's a positive outcome in Davis' line of work, as the "Hockey Is For Everyone" initiative works to make the sport accessible to kids no matter their race, religion or socioeconomic background. Since being placed in her current role with the league, Davis has been tasked with answering critics when it comes to making hockey more welcoming to all players and their fans. 

So even at a school where picking up a basketball is more feasible, Davis wants pick-up hockey to be an option. That starts with equipping students with a couple of hockey sticks and some goal nets -- no expensive equipment required.

"At the league, we're constantly thinking of ways in which we can innovate around ball and street," she said when talking about the access schools have to hockey equipment, even if it's just a couple of sticks. "I often talk about exposure in urban centers, particularly within two dynamics -- one is exposure, and the other is access."

That exposure comes from having a player to look up to, and it doesn't hurt that the San Jose Sharks' "Hockey Is For Everyone" ambassador is Kane. The students who participated in Monday's pick-up game didn't just gain a better understanding of hockey over the afternoon, but also clearly enjoyed interacting with Kane.

"I met Evander at an ESPN event this summer, and we had a natural connection," Davis said. "I really think he's coming into his own in terms of him being able to come into communities and be a relatable figure. And I really think that representation counts."

Bringing hockey to the rest of the Bay Area doesn't stop with this one venture to Westlake Middle School, either. Davis' goal is to make hockey accessible all year long in all corners of the country.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses importance of fitness in HEADSTRONG]

"We're testing in Boston, this new innovation around 'hoop net' where we take a basketball court and we're able to put a hockey net between two basketball courts and kids can have pickup games on their own," Davis said. "It's year-round. Just having kids know that there's another sport available to them.

"I really think that's the bottom line."

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

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Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

SAN JOSE -- The SAP Center crowd was on the edge of its seats during overtime play as Brent Burns went to the box for tripping and the Sharks went on the penalty kill. 

But goaltender Martin Jones was there to keep the game moving right along, making stop after stop against the Red Wings and giving San Jose the boost it needed to get to the shootout and tally its sixth straight victory.

On a night when the Sharks weren't at their best, Jones was -- as head coach Peter DeBoer aptly put it -- San Jose's "best player." And this certainly wasn't the first time this month that he came up with some big saves at a very big moment.

Without Jones playing at the level he has been over the last few contests, the Sharks might not finally be climbing out of their early-season hole.

"When he can steal games like that, it's huge for us," Kevin Labanc said. "He had an unbelievable game today and that's why he's the goalie that he is. We have a lot of faith in him and he's winning us games right now."

Jones' work on the penalty kill was just one highlight of his performance from Saturday night. He was steady as Detroit's offense picked up steam and used its speed to wedge into San Jose's zone. Jones was quick to save some of the Red Wings' best shots, most notably a Brandon Perlini attempt that he batted out of the crease with his outstretched right leg. He then topped it off by completely stymying Detroit's top scorers in the shootout.

"A big reason we got the two points was him tonight," captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He made massive saves. You think of that penalty kill, that save in the second there which was huge, big saves in the third that he made. He's playing great. And then the shootout -- he's been unbelievable in the shootout so far."

Considering the rough start Jones had this season, one wonders if he has been doing something different recently in his preparation for games. But when asked postgame why he's been more successful lately, the netminder -- who is typically a pretty cool customer -- couldn't pinpoint where his current confidence is coming from.

"I have to play the game," Jones said. "I can't rely on making a big save early, sometimes that's just the way the game unfolds. I get confidence from practicing hard and making sure I'm focused on the details."

Granted, Jones' numbers on the season as a whole still aren't great. He's 8-7-1 through 16 starts and currently possesses an .889 save percentage. Even over the course fo San Jose's current six-game winning streak, he's sitting on an .891 save percentage. While the team in front of Jones obviously is scoring enough goals to win games and piggyback on his big saves, it still needs to give him a little more help.

"I still think we can be tighter and better defensively," Couture critiqued. "Too many grade-As in our slot and breakaways. So we'll tighten up on that."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks beat Red Wings in shootout]

But the Sharks aren't going to scoff at another win, especially if it comes at the hands of a big performance from their goalie.

"When you're putting together a winning streak, you're going to have to win all kinds of different ways," DeBoer said. "You're going to put some really solid games together, and then you're going to win some like this where you've got a couple of guys with big performances."

In this case, Jones' performance is what kept the winning streak alive.