When the Buffalo Sabres awoke Friday morning, they were perched atop the NHL standings with a sparkling 6-1-1 record.
For a downtrodden organization that has missed the playoffs the last eight seasons, this is a big improvement — one they hope to improve upon further when they visit the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
“I think right now we’re just enjoying playing the game, the grind of it,” goalie Carter Hutton said. “We’ve got to play in these games. If we want to be a playoff team, if we want to be a winning team, we have to learn how to play in tough situations, tough buildings.”
The Sabres arrive in Northern California having won four of their last five games, the latest a 3-0 victory in Los Angeles over the Kings on Thursday in which Hutton sent a franchise record with 47 saves in a shutout win. Hutton has recorded a shutout in his last two games.
In a young season that’s seeing many of Buffalo’s young and promising players reaching their potential — for example, Casey Mittelstadt scored twice against the Kings — it’s a nice story for the veteran goalie to receive his accolades.
“I think the main thing is he’s just so calm all the time,” Mittelstadt said of Hutton. “No matter what’s going on, the game can be chaos, and you look back and he’s always calm and relaxed.”
“You just keep competing,” Hutton said of his latest performance, but he could also be talking about this career path. “You can’t really let your guard down. You never think you’re unbeatable by any means.”
The Sharks head into the clash having apparently turned the corner from their early season struggles. San Jose opened the campaign with four consecutive losses, but now is riding a three-game winning streak and coming off a 5-2 shellacking of the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday.
“Establishing our home ice this week, especially with a couple days off between games, is important,” forward Evander Kane told NHL.com. “Getting leads early is something we didn’t do when we lost four in a row, and we’ve done a good job of playing with the lead. Those are some positive steps.”
Kane certainly has had a hand in the Sharks’ improved fortunes. A first-period hat trick against the Hurricanes gives the sniper four goals and six points in four games this season. He missed the first three clashes due to a suspension.
“It was obviously nice to be a part of getting that lead,” Kane said. “The guys did a great job of getting pucks to the net. Our power play executed. It was nice to get it at home.”
It has also helped the San Jose cause that goaltender Martin Jones has found his form. Jones made 36 saves against the Hurricanes, 15 of them in the first period. He has allowed only three goals over his last two starts after surrendering 12 in his first three games of the season.
“He’s been locked in the last couple nights and when he gets like this, he’s one of the best,” captain Logan Couture told the San Jose Mercury News. “He made those big saves and really kept us in that game. It could have gotten ugly with the chances that they were getting in the first. He played very well.”
–Field Level Media