It’s finally a Happy New Year for the San Jose Sharks, who got hot in snowy Buffalo and earned a much-needed road win.
The Sharks scored three times in the first period, and Adin Hill was strong in the net as San Jose beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2. After starting its current road trip 0-2, the Sharks needed a strong, consistent performance to get its first win of 2022.
And while it’s a little late to pop a champagne cork, there are several reasons to celebrate.
Sharks Get Back on Track
The Sharks won. And for a team on the outside of the playoff bracket, nothing is more important on the road.
It’s always difficult to win on the road, especially during multi-city trips in different time zones. San Jose started this current journey with losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit and didn’t look good in either game. The Sabres are not having a good season at 10-18-6, but they were at home and aching to break a four-game winless streak.
The Sharks put together a big first period and made the three goals stand. Fast start, good goaltending, and consistent play – the perfect recipe for a road win.
The three-goal first period featured some very familiar names to Sharks fans, and that will make San Jose head coach Bob Boughner very happy.
The Sharks’ veteran leaders have struggled a bit collectively as of late, but they took control in Buffalo. Matt Nieto, Timo Meier, and Tomas Hertl all scored in a span of five minutes, giving their team all the offense it would need.
Nieto started the scoring for San Jose with just his third goal of the season, and he was set up beautifully by Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano. Bonino passed to Cogliano just off to the side of the net, and he fed Nieto, who buried a shot behind Buffalo goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
The Sharks, who seemed to lack momentum in recent games, were in full attack mode after Nieto scored. Meier put his team up 2-0 with a blast from near the sidewall, which ricocheted off the post and into the net for his 14th tally of the season.
Hertl assisted Meier’s goal and scored his own goal when the Sabres were caught up ice. San Jose went on a 3-on-2 break, and Hertl used a wrist shot through two defenders to put the Sharks up three goals. Hertl leads the Sharks with 17 goals, and it’s important the team’s big names lead the way and set an example for the younger players Bouchner is trying to work into the lineup.
Top of the Hill
Adin Hill got the call to start in the net with the struggling James Reimer out with an undisclosed injury. He delivered his best performance since a 2-1 overtime win on the road against the New York Islanders on Dec. 2.
He stopped 37 of 39 shots against Buffalo. He was strong the entire game but stood out in the last few minutes as the Sabres desperately tried to force a tie.
Trailing 3-1, the Sabres received a big break when San Jose’s Jayboc Megna was called for tripping with 2:08 left in regulation. With the goalie already pulled, Buffalo used the 6-on-4 opportunity to their advantage, and Zemgus Girgensons snuck the puck past Hill with 1:45 remaining. Suddenly there was a chance that the Sabres could rescue a point in a game they were about to lose.
But Hill came through for the Sharks in the final, frantic moments, and he made one of his best stops on the final shot. Vinnie Hinostroza served up a long slap shot with six seconds on the clock, which Hill blocked, and the goalie laid out on the ice to stop Tage Thompson from following up with a chip near the post. The Sharks were able to pin the puck along the boards as time ran out.
“It was nice to see a lot of rubber, a lot of shots, get a feel for the puck in the net,” Hill said. “It was good, and obviously, getting the two points is huge. … Hopefully, we can start stringing some together here.”
Hill’s performance was an excellent sign for the Sharks with Reimer’s health in question.
Ferraro A Defensive Standout
Mario Ferraro was back on the ice for the Sharks, and it became immediately apparent how important he is to the blueliners.
Ferraro missed three games on the COVID-19 protocol list and was a strong presence in his return. Paired with veteran Brent Burns, the 23-year-old Ferraro was a disrupter all night and was very active with his stick.
Ferraro brought a nice spark to a unit that has gone through many changes.
Sharks Have Injury Issues
Having Ferraro back was a positive, but the injuries keep coming for this team.
Reimer and defensemen Jake Middleton and Erik Karlsson all missed the Buffalo game after playing on Jan. 4 in Detroit. Middleton was placed on injured reserve after being hit from behind into the boards by Detroit’s Givani Smith and left the game in the first period.
Karlsson was also injured in Detroit. Reimer’s ailment is a mystery, but he did miss five games in December with a lower-body injury.
Goalie Zach Sawchenko and defenseman Ryan Merkley were activated against Buffalo and may have to ride this current roster into Philadelphia for the game against the Flyers on Jan. 8.
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Scott Linesburgh has been a sports writer for 35 years, and has spent more than 15 years as a pro hockey beat writer. He has covered some of the biggest sporting events, including the Super Bowl and Indianapolis 500. A native of Long Island, N.Y. who grew up as an Islander fan, Scott cover the San Jose Sharks for THW, and is always looking for the stories beyond the box scores.