|Sharks return home to take on Sabres|
Through the early part of the season, the San Jose Sharks have had a hard time holding leads and closing out opponents.
After a disappointing road trip, San Jose looks to reverse those trends on Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sharks are back at SAP Center after dropping three of five, capped by a 3-2 setback to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. In three losses, San Jose (2-3-1) either let leads slip away or failed to capitalize before a contest was out of reach.
"We're not scoring enough and not getting enough saves; it's a bad combination," coach Peter DeBoer said after the game in New Jersey.
The Sharks surrendered three third-period goals in a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Oct. 8. Three nights later, San Jose yielded the tying goal in the third before falling in overtime to the New York Rangers. DeBoer's club then gave up two goals in the final 20 minutes of the loss to the Devils.
In the opening game of the trip on Oct. 5, the Sharks wasted an early two-goal lead before beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in overtime.
But San Jose's struggles go beyond end results. One facet of the club's special teams unit is struggling while another is flourishing. The Sharks are 2 for 21 with the man advantage, but also has three short-handed goals this season. The club registered eight such tallies in 2017-18.
"We have to find a way to get another goal a night, and part of that is power play and part of that is 5-on-5," said DeBoer. "We have to find a way to get another save a night. Part of that is defending a little tighter and part of that is getting another save."
One player off to a solid start is San Jose winger Evander Kane, and he's scheduled to face the team that traded him away last winter for the first time.
Selected fourth overall in the 2009 NHL Draft, Kane never lived up to high expectations in nine-plus seasons with three clubs before being dealt to the Sharks in February.
But Kane provided an immediate boost for San Jose. In 17 games, he collected nine goals -- including a career-high four against the Calgary Flames on March 16. In his first playoff action, the 27-year-old notched four goals in nine contests, but the Sharks lost in the second round to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in six games.
Kane, who signed a seven-year contract extension in May, leads the Sharks with four goals and is tied with Kevin Labanc for the team lead with five points.
Buffalo has split the first two games of a five-game swing after falling 4-1 to Vegas on Tuesday. Vladimir Sobotka scored in the final minute to help the Sabres avoid being blanked for the second time this season.
"We've got to make sure our execution has to be ready when the puck drops," coach Phil Housley told the Buffalo News. "Not 10 minutes into the game or at the end of the first period."
Even with the loss, Buffalo is 6-1-1 in its last eight road games against Pacific Division foes. However, the Sharks swept both meetings in 2017-18 and are looking for their fourth straight win in the series.
Sobotka, who is playing with his first Eastern Conference team after nine seasons with the St. Louis Blues, has eight points in his last eight matchups versus the Sharks. The native of the Czech Republic registered the only hat trick of his NHL career on March 9, 2013, in San Jose.
While Carter Hutton has struggled with nine goals allowed in his last two games, the Sabres' new starting netminder could be poised for a bounce-back game. Hutton is 4-1-1 with a 1.32 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in his career against San Jose.
Linus Ullmark, who earned his first NHL shutout last Saturday by making 36 saves in a 3-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes, has never faced the Sharks.