Forward Tomas Hertl had a goal and an assist and goalie Adin Hill made 36 saves as the Sharks used a strong first period to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Thursday night at KeyBank Center.
Matt Nieto and Timo Meier also scored in the first and the Sharks went 3-for-4 on the penalty kill to help earn their first win on this four-game road trip that wraps up Saturday in Philadelphia.
The Sharks lost 8-5 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday and 6-2 to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.
Despite those unsightly losses, the Sharks (18-16-1) are now just two points back of the Edmonton Oilers for the second and final wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Winnipeg Jets and Los Angeles Kings each entered Thursday with 37 points.
Hill faced 21 shots in the third period.
Since he made 24 saves in a 2-1 Sharks win over the New York Islanders on Dec. 2, Hill had a 1-4-0 record and a .888 save percentage in six games. He allowed two goals on seven shots on Tuesday in relief of James Reimer, who allowed four goals in 24 in the Sharks’ 6-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.
This could be Hill’s net for the immediate future.
Sharks coach Bob Boughner said before Thursday’s game that James Reimer is not 100 percent healthy right now as he deals with a lower-body ailment.
Reimer was one of the Sharks’ top players this season up until the Christmas break, as he owned a 9-5-1 record with a .936 save percentage in 16 games. Since Christmas, though, Reimer is just 2-2-0 with a .830 save percentage in four games.
Boughner said Reimer is “dealing with some maintenance things, really, with his body and his game, and we want to make sure that we give him the proper time to feel better before he gets back into action.
“It’s just unfortunate because (Reimer) had such a great start to the season and like the rest of our team, has dipped a little bit. I know he’ll get back and we want to make sure that when he does, he’s close to 100 percent, so give him that chance for success.”
The Sharks are carrying three goalies on their roster right now and Zach Sawchenko was Hill’s backup on Thursday. Hill, though, will presumably get the call on Saturday when the Sharks finish the road trip in Philadelphia against the Flyers.
Hill entered Thursday with a 6-9-0 record and a .897, and just hasn’t been consistent enough since the first three-plus weeks of the season.
“I want Hiller to get back there and own that net,” Boughner said.
“I look back at the way he played in Toronto on our first road trip, the way he played in Calgary (on Nov. 9). He was big, he was confident. His job is not to win us a hockey game. His job is to make the saves he needs to make it, and give confidence to the rest of the team and be a calming effect, and that’s what I’ve asked him to do here.
“Clears his head and stop overthinking. You’ve got to play by instinct and you’ve got to play with confidence.”
The Sharks on Thursday also played without injured defensemen Erik Karlsson and Jake Middleton. Middleton was placed on injured reserve Thursday afternoon and will be out of the lineup for at least the next two games.
Karlsson and Middleton were both hurt in the Sharks’ 6-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.
In the first period, Middleton was attempting to play the puck along the boards to the right of the Sharks’ net when he was hit from behind by Wings forward Givani Smith, causing Middleton’s head to bounce off the glass. Middleton left the game and did not return.
Karlsson appeared to be hurt in the third period after he wound up for a slap shot in the Wings’ end. Karlsson finished the game but did not look comfortable for his remaining shifts.
Karlsson might return for Saturday’s game in Philadelphia, Boughner said, although being back for next Tuesday’s game at home with the Red Wings could be a better possibility.
Karlsson is fourth on the Sharks with 22 points in 28 games and is third among all skaters in average time on ice (23:05). He has been paired all season with Middleton, who has eight points and is averaging 18:24 per game.
“It’s been that way all season, whether we’ve gone through these COVID issues or injury issues, and this is no different,” Boughner said of playing without certain regulars.
Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drew back into the lineup after he was scratched Tuesday. Boughner is also inserted Ryan Merkley, the Sharks’ 2018 first-round draft pick who was a part of the team’s taxi squad to start the road trip. He was paired with Jaycob Megna.
Before Thursday, the Sharks had lost their first two games on this road trip by a combined score of 14-7, and only have eight of a possible 22 points since a Dec. 3 loss to the New York Rangers.
Mario Ferraro returned Thursday from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol after he missed the previous three games, and will again be paired with Brent Burns. Captain Logan Couture and fellow center Lane Pederson remain in the league’s protocol and are not expected back into the lineup until next week.
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)