There was a point in time not too long ago when the San Jose Sharks were a powerhouse in the rugged Western Conference. They boasted size and skill and were back-stopped by exceptional goaltending. Beginning with the 2003-04 season the Sharks made the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons in a run that included a Presidents Trophy (2008-09) and two consecutive Western Conference Finals appearances (2010 and 2011.)
That run all came crashing down, however, as the Sharks became only the fourth team ever to lose a Stanley Cup playoff round after leading a seven-game series 3-0 in 2014. That epic collapse by the Sharks not only propelled the Los Angeles Kings to their second Cup in three years, it through the team for a psychological loop.
The 2014 off season did not bring drastic changes but the team made some curious moves like stripping veteran leaders "Jumbo" Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau of their letters after not being able to move them and then added two fighters in Mike Brown and John Scott to the team in an effort to, I don't know, beat someone up if they brought up the collapse? Todd McLellan was retained, but after missing the playoffs with those shrewd moves, McLellan moved on to the greener pastures of Edmonton, Alberta to coach phenom Connor McDavid while Peter DeBoer, whose teams have missed the playoffs in all but one season, a 2012 Stanley Cup Finals loss to the LA Kings, was brought in.
The Sharks come into Buffalo with an aging team and an 8-8 record to face a young, up-and-coming Sabres squad who have an identical record. They started the year strong going 4-0 before dropping five of six. They head into First Niagara Center having beaten the Detroit Red Wings last night on the first of their season-long, six-game road trip.
Buffalo, on the other hand, started out slow going 2-6 before turning it around to win four of their last six. They hit the home ice on a three-game winning streak which includes a recent Sunshine State sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. The cyclical nature of sports is pointing to the crossing of two teams headed in the opposite direction. The Sharks, as noted, had a remarkable run that's come to an end while the Sabres are coming off of two consecutive 30th-place finishes in the league and are starting to rise.
Despite what's transpired over the last two seasons for Buffalo, they've managed to give San Jose fits. Two of their 23 wins last season were at the expense of the Sharks while Buffalo also swept the season series in 2013-14. The Sabres are on an eight-game winning streak against the Sharks and last time San Jose' defeated Buffalo was January 23, 2010.
In addition to the oddity of the Sabres success against a tough, western conference tieam like the Sharks, the two franchises have played under extenuating circumstances.
Last year the now infamous "Wall of Snow" hit the Buffalo south towns dumping six feet of snow in less than 24 hours while sparing downtown and areas to the north. The game vs. the Sharks went on and the 6,200 hearty fans who made it to the game were treated to a 4-1 victory by the Sabres.
On February 12, 2009 tragedy struck the Buffalo suburbs as Continental Flight 3407 crashed into a home in Clarence killing all 49 passengers and one on the ground. One night later, the Sabres brought a ray of light to a dark situation by defeating the Sharks with a dramatic 6-5 shootout victory. Buffalo's Jason Pominville tipped a Craig Rivet shot into the net with four seconds left to tie the score while Derek Roy scored the shootout winner in the fifth round.
None of that drama surrounds the game tonight, although thoughts and prayers are going out to the victims in Paris, France where at least 153 are dead from coordinated terrorist attacks last night.
For one of the few times this season, Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma looks to be keeping his offensive lines and defensive pairings intact. Such is the workings of a three-game winning streak. The lines for today from the morning skate according to the Sabres twitter page are:
Matt Moulson, Ryan O'Reilly, Brian Gionta
Jamie McGinn, Jack Eichel, Tyler Ennis
Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno-David Legwand, Tim Schaller-Nic Deslauriers
Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe, Mark Pysyk
Carlo Colaiacovo, Cody Franson
Defenseman Mike Weber is still out with a lower body injury while Zach Bogosian, who's yet to hit the ice this season was "rotating in and out of the first pairing," according to the Sabres tweet.
And according to WGR's Paul Hamilton, Chad Johnson will be in net. Sabres PR notes that Johnson has not given up an even-strength goal since October 29th against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a span of 128:52.
They also note that the Sharks have not won in Buffalo since December 2, 2005 and that Buffalo is 16-1-0 all-time at home vs. San Jose.
Game time is 7:00pm.