A bounce here, a deflection off a skate there, a couple of inches and a back-and-forth game resulted in the Buffalo Sabres taking two points out of San Jose early Sunday morning.
The Sabres improved to 7-1-1 with the 4-3 win over the Sharks in a solid performance to cap off the team’s three-game Western Conference road trip.
It was a slow start, but Buffalo took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on a goal from Marcus Johansson. Henri Jokiharju, who is proving to be quite a valuable player and who should have no problem sticking with the Sabres when others return to the lineup from injury, brought the puck into the zone. He passed it back to Johansson, who shot it with a quick release. The puck bounced off goaltender Martin Jones’ leg and into the net.
Johansson Goal (Jokiharju assist)— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) October 20, 2019
1-0 Buffalo pic.twitter.com/kR62OpXQdU
Buffalo held onto the lead for only a few minutes, after which penalties began to get to them. Timo Meier capitalized on the power play with a wrist shot that beat Linus Ullmark to tie the game before the end of the opening frame.
The contest shifted in the Sabres’ favor late in the second period, when Casey Mittelstadt scored to make it 2-1 Buffalo. Mittelstadt’s goal underwent a lengthy review; he tipped the puck down into the net with his stick, and it was a matter of inches to determine whether or not his stick/blade were above the crossbar.
Although the call on the ice was no goal, after a review, the officials overturned that decision, giving Mittelstadt his third goal in two games. Jokiharju was also credited with an assist, making it his first multi-point game as a member of the Sabres.
The third period started off more like a game of ping-pong than hockey, with teams trading goals one after the other. San Jose and Buffalo combined for three goals in a span of 2:06 that spun the game into a tizzy.
Tomas Hertl recorded his third goal of the season, tying the game at two just 44 seconds into the third period on a power play tally. Hertl’s shot was redirected off Rasmus Ristolainen’s skate in front of the net, leaving Ullmark ultimately helpless to stop the deflection.
You’ve got to give the Sabres credit, as they made quick work of responding and regaining the lead. After Johansson whiffed on a shot, Jake McCabe helped keep the puck alive in front of the net. As the puck bounced all over the place, Jeff Skinner showcased great hand-eye coordination and got the tap-in to give the Sabres the lead once again.
Just as the Sabres made quick work of that, so did the Sharks. Just 32 seconds after Skinner’s goal, the Sharks found the back of the net to once again tie the game. San Jose did a good job of getting the puck to the net off a shot from Brent Burns. Marcus Sorensen tipped the puck from in front off of his skate, without a kicking motion.
A lucky bounce and a top-shelf goal then made all the difference for Buffalo.
With under eight minutes remaining in regulation, Zemgus Girgensons recorded his first goal of the season and the 50th goal of his NHL career to give the Sabres a 4-3 lead. The initial shot bounced off of Kyle Okposo’s back, but Girgensons was able to capitalize on the deflection and take the puck top-shelf to regain the Buffalo lead.
This time, the Sabres held on, capturing their second straight win and ending the Sharks’ three-game winning streak. The two teams will meet again on Tuesday in Buffalo, capping off a rare home-and-home series between Western Conference and Eastern Conference opponents.
Overall, it was a pretty good game for the Sabres, and a good way to end the road trip. You can’t argue with a 7-1-1 record, even if some of your best players aren’t looking like your best players (see: Eichel, Dahlin). Depth scoring is always nice, and although some were wary of choosing to go with Ullmark over the red-hot Hutton for Saturday night’s game, things worked out better than expected.
At least for now, the Sabres are tied for the top spot in the NHL. Their plus-13 goal differential is second-best in the league, behind only Colorado. Eichel is among the top-20 scorers in the NHL, and Victor Olofsson is tied for the league lead in power-play goals (6). Carter Hutton also leads the league with a .953% save percentage.