SAN JOSE, Calif. – Ted Nolan knows how to deliver inspiring messages, but he’s also aware actions speak loudest. He could talk daily – and does – about hard work leading to good things, but that lesson gets diminished every time a solid effort leads to another loss. Buffalo’s coach needed a well-earned victory to back him up.
He and the Sabres got it Saturday with a 2-1 win in San Jose. Buffalo put on a workmanlike (albeit boring) performance to silence the slumping Sharks and their fans, who normally make SAP Center a deafening place.
It was the first regulation victory for the Sabres (2-7) and proof that hard work can equal success.
“If you work hard and things don’t happen, you still have those doubts,” Nolan said. “The one thing we learned, hopefully, is if you work, good things happen. That’s the way we’re going to have to win this season.
“The last three games, in particular, our work ethic’s improving. As a result, our play is getting better.”
The Sabres learned a few things – good and bad – during their six-day trip through California. They know they don’t have the skill to beat elite clubs such as Anaheim and Los Angeles, but they can at least compete if they bring an effort.
“Everybody works their” butt “off, and that’s the thing about this group,” said left wing Nicolas Deslauriers, who scored the winning goal on a rebound. “We know we don’t have all the skills to win, 7-0, or something like that, but I think all the boys want to work, and we want to change something for the team and the city.”
The change is beginning in the dressing room, says sixth-year defenseman Tyler Myers.
“This is probably the tightest group I’ve been a part of since I’ve been with the Sabres,” he said. “At times we can be a little harder on each other, but as the trip went on I think we got better and we held each other more accountable. That’s where it’s all going to start with the guys in the room holding each other accountable, supporting each other when we’re making good plays and moving forward as a unit.”
The game in San Jose was the Sabres’ best of the three-game trip, and not just because of the victory. They held San Jose to just 14 shots through two periods. They had the puck more and got timely scoring.
“That’s our most complete effort this season,” said defenseman Mike Weber, who blocked a game-high seven shots. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t have a whole trip like that, but you’ve got to take the positives when you can. This is a heck of a way to go home.”
The travel-weary Sabres have a few days to recuperate before visiting Toronto on Tuesday. The next home game is Thursday against Boston. The Bruins sent the Sabres on the road with a 4-0 beatdown, and the Sabres hope they found something on the West Coast other than sunshine and souvenirs.
“We were playing better each game,” said goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who made 29 saves for his first victory with Buffalo. “We were facing tough opponents. It’s definitely hard to win in Anaheim, L.A. or even here, but I think it’s going to make us better in the long run.”
Buffalo ended a four-game losing streak by dispatching struggling San Jose, which lost its fourth straight. There have been more thrilling games played in the Shark Tank. Through the first 40 minutes, that would probably include all of them.
It took nearly 34 minutes for one team (San Jose) to finally reach double digits in shots. Out of nowhere in the third period, the teams combined for three goals in 2:27. Buffalo scored the first two, with two players getting rid of the zeroes in their goal column.
Cody Hodgson opened the scoring with 16:17 left, calmly collecting a loose puck on the doorstep and going behind goalie Alex Stalock with a backhand.
Stalock muffed an easy shot to put Buffalo in front by two. Cody McCormick’s shot from the left circle went through the goalie’s arm and sat in the crease, allowing Deslauriers to stuff it home with 14:03 to go.
“We’re not going to be a highlight-reel type of goals on TV to watch afterward,” Nolan said. “It’s going to be ugly goals like that.”
The Sabres enjoyed their two-goal lead for only 13 seconds. Brent Burns’ shot from the blue line went through the tangled duo of Tommy Wingels and Myers. But Neuvirth stopped the rest of San Jose’s 16 shots in the third period to send the Sabres home with a smile.
“You have a goal scorer get a goal, which was nice, and then you have our checking line chip in with a game-winning goal,” Weber said. “That’s the kind of game we need to play the rest of the way here.”