SAN JOSE – Pregame announcement of the Buffalo Sabres’ starting lineup held a noticeable cheer for netminder Ryan Miller. Question was, were the cheers for Miller’s brilliant Team USA performance in last year’s Olympics or simply an unexpected large showing of Sabres fans showing their support?
Well, with the “let’s go Buffalo chants” being heard louder and more frequently than any “let’s go Sharks” chants in the San Jose crowd, it was clear there was quite a large Buffalo following amongst the San Jose crowd. And that group of Sabres fans in San Jose were rewarded with a 3-0 victory over the Sharks, in large part to their man Ryan Miller’s 36 save, shutout performance.
Miller was indeed tremendous, but as Sharks head coach Todd McLellan saw it, his team didn’t get off the start they needed.
“First team that played the first period, unacceptable,” he said. “After that, not a bad effort but way too late.”
In that first period, the Sharks would fall behind 2-0 on goals by Luke Adam at 10:16 and Jochen Hecht at 16:36. McLellan was extremely poignant about both goals, unhappy with each one.
“Give up the first one because were soft, the second one we cheat,” said the Sharks coach.
Adam’s goal came off a three-on-two rush when Cody McCormick’s shot rebounded to the open slot. Adam beat Dan Boyle to the loose puck and backhanded it past the sprawling Antero Niittymaki.
Not to be left unnoticed was the fact the goal came just 23 seconds after Ryane Clowe dropped the gloves with Sabres defenseman Mike Weber. Clowe decisively won the bout, landing a handful of solid blows but the out-spoken forward’s fight did little to jump start his squad.
Clowe has been one of the Sharks’ best players over the last handful of games and having him sit out the five plus minutes definitely did not help the cause. While Hecht’s goal to put the Sabres up 2-0 came after Clowe was back on the bench, that final 10 minutes of the first period was essentially where the game was lost.
Buffalo added a power-play tally early in the second by their leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek, but it was the two first period goals that set the Sharks back, and once the third one went in, it was smooth sailing for the Sabres.
“You give that goalie, a 3-0 lead, it doesn’t matter. So let’s talk about the first period,” said McLellan.
As the coach put it, any increase in play over the final 40 minutes wouldn’t be enough with a goaltender of Miller’s caliber in the nets.
Sharks’ captain Joe Thornton echoed his coach’s comments.
“Our starts have been an issue and I think tonight was the same way,” Thornton said. “We had to work hard for our goals, especially with a guy like him (Miller) over there.
Miller’s performance was indeed that of what is to be expected from arguably the top goaltender in hockey. However both Clowe and Boyle thought they could have done a better job screening in front of him.
“Maybe do a better job of getting in the goalie’s eyes, I think we can always do better there,” Boyle said. “Crashing the net, getting some rebound goals, because goalies like that if they see the puck, they’re stopping it and not giving up any rebounds.”
“We didn’t make him feel miserable or anything by getting in front of him or getting some traffic,” Clowe added. “We could of done a better job there.”
Overall however, Clowe thought the offensive effort was much better. “I don’t think anyone’s going to complain about our game offensively” he said.
San Jose had their fair share of chances, but Miller and the Sabres defensive game limited the Sharks to mostly one-chance opportunities. Had the Sharks performed better in front of the net as Boyle and Clowe alluded too, then those second and third chances would have been much more prevalent.
With the loss, the Sharks remain at 47 points, and while they sit fifth in the conference, they are just two points above 12th place and teams behind them own games in hand. Now having lost four of six — and three straight at home — the good vibe from that four-game winning streak in December is long gone.