Sharks

Sharks' tough tests continue as team faces East-commanding Sabres

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USATSI

Sharks' tough tests continue as team faces East-commanding Sabres

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.

[RELATED: Sharks credit penalty kill in win over Canes]

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.

Sharks lament 'poor, poor effort' in third period of loss to Lightning

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AP

Sharks lament 'poor, poor effort' in third period of loss to Lightning

For the first 40 minutes of Saturday's game in Tampa Bay, the Sharks had the Lightning within their reach. Sure, San Jose went into an early 1-0 hole, but they kept grinding in an effort to even up the score.

But after finding themselves down 3-0 in the waning minutes of the second stanza, the Sharks' effort took a backseat on their way to losing 7-1. It collectively became a game San Jose wants to put in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible, but also served as an important lesson as the Sharks continue to iron out mistakes.

"It was a strange game," head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters at Amalie Arena after the loss. "At the end of 40, I was pretty happy with how we were playing. I didn't think we deserved to be down 3-0, but that was the reality. The third period was just unacceptable. A poor, poor effort. I think instead of sticking with it we started feeling sorry for ourselves after that fourth goal and maybe started thinking about tomorrow and you can't do that in this league. Throw that one out."

Logan Couture agreed with DeBoer's assessment.

"I thought we played pretty well through two, I thought we had some good five-on-five looks," Couture said. "I didn't like our third period. We gave them some many freebies and let our goalies down. For the first 40 I thought we played hard, it could have been a one or two-goal game."

San Jose generated a couple of good looks in the first 40 minutes, with a Kevin Labanc chance in the second being the best. But through two periods -- and most of the third period -- San Jose was unable to find the back of the net.

"I don't think we started as bad as maybe the score was telling us," Erik Karlsson said. "That's the way it goes sometimes."

Bolts' netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall as he came within minutes of handing the Sharks their first shutout loss of the 2019-20 season, but Couture insisted San Jose didn't put enough pressure on him.

"He played well, he made saves, but I think we could have done a better job with traffic," Couture said. "There were second opportunities around him and they did a good job of boxing us out. We've got to be hungrier around their net to score goals."

Even though the Sharks seemed content overall with how they play through the first two periods, there's no denying that the first five minutes set a tone for the rest of the evening. The Sharks were granted six minutes of power-play time thanks to a tripping penalty on Ondrej Palat 15 seconds into the game and then high-sticking double minor on Mathieu Joseph a little over five minutes later. San Jose couldn't convert on any of their chances, stretching their power-play goal drought to a ghastly 0-for-22.

While the power play isn't the only thing the Sharks have to correct after Saturday's loss, it has definitely raised concern.

"I've been trying to be patient through it," DeBoer admitted, "but it hasn't been good and it's getting to the point now where, tonight a big difference in the game was special teams. Especially when we get those early ones, that's a chance to grab some momentum on the road."

[RELATED: Hurricans poke fun at goalie after Thornton punch]

The Sharks are fortunate enough to have a quick turnaround after Saturday's loss, heading to Sunrise to face the Panthers in a Sunday matinee.

"Overall, I think this is a game we're going to have to learn from," Karlsson summarized. "We've got to figure out a way to be successful no matter who we are playing. Today was a tough one on the score sheet, but we have a game again tomorrow. We have to fix the things that make us successful."

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 7-1 blowout loss to Lightning

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USATSI

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 7-1 blowout loss to Lightning

BOX SCORE

The Sharks' Saturday night faceoff against the Lightning wasn't nearly as fast-paced as their previous game against the Hurricanes. And, unfortunately for the Sharks, it wasn't as good of a performance.

While the Tampa Bay squad has struggled this season, they overpowered San Jose thanks to a strong performance from their netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy, handing the Sharks a 7-1 loss.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's game.

The other guy was better

It wasn't as if Martin Jones didn't make a couple of big saves early in the game. (At least, up until he was pulled from the game.) However, Vasilevskiy was superior on the other end of the ice.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was a brick wall against San Jose, coming within minutes of handing the Sharks their first shutout loss of their season.

It wasn't as if the Sharks weren't trying. They got good o-zone time and outshot the Lightning through the first 40 minutes of play. But even with a ton of pressure from San Jose's third line in the second period, Vasilevskiy remained un-phased. By the third period, the wind had been taken out of the sails of the Sharks' offense.

Doomed by special teams

This isn't the first time this season that the power play has come under scrutiny. Far from it, actually -- San Jose entered Saturday's game on a 0-for-19 stretch. But things got worse against the Bolts, as the Sharks got three opportunities in the first frame -- one minor penalty 15 seconds into the game and double minor later in the period -- and couldn't capitalize on any of them. Being on the man advantage almost looked to zap San Jose's energy.

When the Bolts got their own chance on the four-minute power play in the second stanza, they didn't have the same problem that the Sharks did. San Jose's league-leading penalty kill was almost all of the way through a Kevin Labanc high-sticking double minor when Steven Stamkos's shot picked the corner and beat Jones for Tampa's third goal on the evening.

Back on the hunt for a four-line effort

This one might seem obvious since the Sharks almost got shutout, but the effort put out by all lines needs to be noted. For a second straight game, the Joe Thornton-led third line was the strongest in San Jose's forward attack. But unlike in the Sharks' previous game, the other lines didn't generate too many good looks.

Simply put, the Sharks aren't going to win games if the majority of their team is playing a passive game like they did on Saturday. Even against a middle-of-the-pack team like the Bolts, San Jose's collective effort just wasn't good enough.