SAN JOSE, Calif. — The opening few minutes of a hockey game are a chance to really make a statement. The Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks have certainly done that.
The statements, of course, couldn’t be more different.
San Jose skates into the rink, lights the goal lamp and shows the opponent it has a long road ahead. The Sabres limp onto the ice, fall into a hole and let the foes look forward to an easy game.
It’s not a coincidence the Sharks were 10-1-3 and the Sabres were 2-13-1 when they met Tuesday night.
“Over the years, you see that starting strong and getting your game established early helps throughout the whole 60 minutes,” San Jose alternate captain Patrick Marleau said. “It makes them know it’s going to be a game.
“We’d like to do it all the time. It doesn’t always happen, but we want to make it uncomfortable for teams to play against us, and that’s one of the things is coming out and starting strong.”
The Sharks entered the game as the best team out of the dressing room. They led the NHL with 19 goals in the first period, and they held the largest first-period goal differential at plus-11.
“We want to be a proactive team,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said in SAP Center. “We don’t want to be a reactive one. We talk a lot about that and stress it, but that happens in all 30 locker rooms. Sometimes it just goes your way.”
It hasn’t gone the Sabres’ way. They were far and away the worst starters in the NHL. They’d given up a league-worst 20 goals and had scored only two, also worst in the league.
While early momentum buoys the Sharks – they were 6-0-2 when leading after one – the quick deficits are demoralizing the Sabres.
They were 2-11 when trailing after one, which means they entered the opening intermission in a hole in 13 of their 16 games.
It was an all-Russian scratch night for the Sabres. Rolston benched center Mikhail Grigorenko for the second straight game and fourth time this season. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov took a seat for the second time in three games.
Forward John Scott served the sixth game of his seven-game suspension.
He’ll miss Thursday’s visit to Los Angeles and is eligible to return Friday in Anaheim.
Patrick Kaleta took part in his first practice with the Rochester Americans since 2008. The erstwhile Sabres forward was sent down over the weekend following a 10-game suspension.
“The past couple days have been really hard for me,” Kaleta told reporters in Rochester.
The right winger will sit out tonight’s game against Hamilton and play Friday against Binghamton. The 27-year-old will try to reclaim a spot in the NHL after playing 306 games with the Sabres.
“It’s about becoming an effective hockey player,” Kaleta said. “If I can somehow help out other guys and improve their careers as well as mine, then it’s going to be a positive experience.”