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. 

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff

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AP

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau react to ex-teammates on Sharks' staff

SAN JOSE - No, the days of the player-coach hybrid aren't making a comeback. Although, if you're Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, it might feel that way.

With the introduction of Bob Boughner as San Jose's interim head coach, the organization brought in staff that includes former Sharks' Mike Ricci and Evgeni Nabokov -- two players who were on the roster back when the now 40-year-olds hadn't reached their veteran status yet.

"It will be interesting to see them on the bench," Marleau said. "But they're very professional and they'll do a great job."

Marleau played with both Ricci and Nabokov in the early 2000s, while Thornton only logged time with Nabokov after coming to San Jose from the Boston Bruins in 2005. While it has been some time since either newly-appointed assistant coach has rocked a teal sweater, Ricci and Nabokov have stayed with the organization in different capacities over the last few years. Having that closeness and a high level of familiarity is something that can benefit the team as they go through a midseason coaching change.

"I know what they've been through and I know a lot about them, so it's easy to communicate with them," Marleau said. 

Thornton agreed with his teammate's assessment.

"They've been here for a long time now," Thornton said. "To have them on the bench now is going to be fun."

Both Ricci and Nabokov have spent the last several seasons working on the development side of the Sharks' organization and have worked closely with players on the AHL Barracuda -- a team that has been coached by Roy Sommer up until he, too, was recently named assistant coach under Boughner. In his introductory press conference on Thursday, Boughner outlined how he believes his new coaching staff might function.

"We met last night as a staff and this morning and we still need to work through some things," Boughner admitted. "But Mike Ricci and Roy are going to be on the bench with me. Roy's going to move to the defensive side and run some power play. Ricci was a great penalty killer his whole career and I think we're going to be able to enjoy some of his expertise. I'll be running the forwards and obviously Nabby will (oversee) the goalies. There are still some job responsibilities we'll have to sort out in the next few days. But for now, I think those guys are excited. It was a big day for them as well."

[RELATED: How DeBoer's firing shocked Sharks players]

As far as reuniting Ricci and Nabokov with their former teammates, Boughner thinks working closely with Thornton and Marleau will benefit the entire roster as the Sharks try to, yet again, turn their season around after a tough stretch of losses.

"I think you can see, even in the morning, there's that report there," Boughner said of watching the reunion during morning skate. "There's deep respect. There's a lot of familiarity with those guys and I think that's going to help. Ricci and Roy have seen these young guys all the way up. I think there's great chemistry that we're going to have there."

Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change

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USATSI

Sharks fail to correct bad habits in first game after coaching change

SAN JOSE -- Thursday could have been a fresh start for the Sharks. As shocking and emotional as it was to go through a midseason coaching change, they were presented with the opportunity to turn things around.

Unfortunately, Thursday's game against the Rangers featured a lot of the same problems. Missed opportunities, loose late-game play and yet another notch in the loss column.

Sure, getting accustomed to a new coach's ways can take some time. But that doesn't give the Sharks a pass when it comes to playing a full 60-minute hockey game.

"It's tough, it's difficult, but there's no excuse," captain Logan Couture said after the 6-3 loss. "Lots of teams have [gone through a coaching change]. A lot of teams in this league have done it and they've gone on winning streaks. The team that did it last year won the Cup. So, we've got to find a way. Tonight wasn't good enough once again."

San Jose did, in fact, have a great chance to get back into the win column in Bob Boughner's first game behind the bench. Even with New York continuing to grind away, the Sharks were able to take a 3-2 lead at the 4:12 mark of the third period thanks to a big goal from Brenden Dillon.

But then the defense took its foot off of the gas and Martin Jones couldn't stop Mike Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin from pushing the Rangers over the hump. In a matter of minutes, the Sharks went from defending a lead to being in a hole they didn't have time to dig out of.

"When you have a lead in the third with 15 minutes left, you have to defend a little bit harder and not turn the puck over like we did," Couture continued. "Play harder in our own end, which we did not. Defend our slot harder tonight, and I don't think we did."

Dillon agreed. "Frustrating when you have a lead like that. Especially at home, we have to be able to close it out. If we give up the tying goal, and then a couple more, it's just frustrating."

Letting up late isn't the only thing that is plaguing the Sharks right now. San Jose has struggled to play a full 60-minute game for the bulk of the season thus far. Thursday's loss showed yet again that San Jose isn't playing full games on a nightly basis -- regardless of who is behind the bench.

"I think we did some good things tonight, but obviously it still wasn't a full 60," interim head coach Bob Boughner observed. "I think in the third period we ran out of gas there a little bit."

[RELATED: Boughner confident in staff, wants Sharks to play inspired]

Martin Jones, who surrendered three goals in the third period, agreed. "Have to play a full 60 minutes, you have to," he said, acknowledging that having an adjustment period with a new coaching staff isn't an excuse. "They had more jump in the third period than us. We've got to find a way in a tied hockey game to come out with a little bit more energy. I don't know how many shots or scoring chances we had in the third, but we need to apply more pressure in a close hockey game like that."

Whether it's applying more pressure or tightening up, the Sharks clearly still have a laundry list of things they need to clean up. Now with the dust settling in regards to the coaching change, San Jose has no other option but to dig deep and keep working.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Boughner reminded everyone. "We'll have a good practice day tomorrow. Sort some things out."