In a season that hasn’t given fans much to cheer about, the San Jose Sharks are seeing some positives as they get healthy and eye a fourth straight win when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
The Sharks enter the game having won three in a row for the first time this season. The winning streak has coincided with the return of captain Logan Couture as well as fellow center Nico Sturm, each of whom returned on Jan. 20.
Their returns have given San Jose three of their main centers in the lineup at the same time. Mikael Granlund is the other, and he’s expected to return from an upper-body injury when the team resumes its schedule on Feb. 14 following their bye week.
“We all know what (Couture) means to us,” coach David Quinn said. “It’s not a coincidence we have the record we do since he’s been back. It’s not a coincidence we have the record we do since we’ve had three of our centers, let alone four. … We thought that was going to be the strength of our team and it is, and to have three of them in the lineup makes a big, big difference for us.”
The penalty kill has also seen improvement over the last three games. While it’s been a season-long struggle and remains last in the NHL with a 71.8 success rate, the Sharks have killed off seven of their past nine penalties.
“Our inability to get the puck out of the zone has hurt us quite a bit and in general, loose pucks, we don’t get enough out of the zone,” Sturm said. “It just takes 20 seconds off the clock, but especially against that first unit, the sooner you can get those guys off the ice to tomorrow, the more it’ll help and it’s a step in the right direction last two games.”
Top defense prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin will make his NHL debut Saturday. Acquired in the deal that sent Timo Meier to the New Jersey Devils, Mukhamadullin has 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) in 39 games with San Jose’s AHL affiliate.
The Sabres arrive in San Jose looking to close out their three-game California trip on a high as they head into their bye week.
Buffalo is coming off a 5-3 comeback win against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday. They trailed 3-1 before scoring four unanswered to rebound from a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in which they trailed 3-0 after two periods.
“It’s consistency,” coach Don Granato said. “We know that’s been our issue and our challenge. When we’re good, we’re good enough to win but we just haven’t been good enough times. That will continue to be our challenge. … It’s what we want (Saturday). We want to make sure that we play in the areas of compete, in the areas of willingness to battle, shot mentality, willingness to go after a loose puck, create a loose puck to go after. Those are the areas we need to make sure we are doing consistently — day in, day out, night in, night out.”
JJ Peterka spurred the Sabres’ win against Los Angeles, scoring twice and adding an assist for his first three-point game in the NHL. Since ending a 12-game goal drought on Jan. 11, Peterka has six points (four goals, two assists) in his past seven games.
The Sabres will be without winger Zemgus Girgensons, who sustained an upper-body injury early in the first period against the Kings, and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, who will miss a second straight game, also with an upper-body injury.
–Field Level Media
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