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From the other coast, Sharks' Couture impressed by Bills' defense

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Nearly 2,700 miles away from New Era Field, there's an NHL player who knows all about what The Drought means.

San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, having grown up a little less than three hours away from Buffalo in London, Ont. And if you follow him on Twitter, he's as apt to be talking about his favorite football team (or the Toronto Blue Jays) as he is about hockey.

"Offensively, they've struggled big-time but it's been great to see the way the defense has played," Couture said of the Bills after the Sharks' skated Thursday at their practice facility, Solar4America Ice. "Younger rookies have been great on defense and the team has exceeded my expectations. It was hard to see three wins in the first five games at all, but they've made it fun to watch so far."

Couture's hockey team hosts the Sabres Thursday night in SAP Center and will be trying to avoid an 0-3 start for the first time since 1993-94, which was just its third year in the NHL. The Sharks, who are 16 months removed from their Game Six loss to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup final, have opened the season with disappointing home losses to Philadelphia (5-3) and Los Angeles (4-1).

"We have to get back to playing our game, the way that we have the last couple years," he said. "We have to get there system-wise, emotion-wise. Our game is to be aggressive. We have to salvage this homestand here. We've still got three games left and we have to be better."

Couture, 28, said he was thrilled by the Bills' 23-17 upset Oct. 1 in Atlanta. It's perhaps the team's biggest road win of the last 25 years, and thus its signature victory away from Orchard Park in Couture's life as a fan since childhood.

"I'm such a Bills fan that I was watching the end of that game and I'm sitting there thinking, 'They're going to find a way to lose this game,' " he said. "You've gotten so used to that and it's hard to keep that out of your mind but then they pulled it out and that's when you start saying this could be different.

"But I remember the 5-1 start a few years ago and then you watch them lose what, seven in a row? (It was actually seven of eight). So you never know what can happen. Hopefully they figure it out."

Couture's mother is a huge Bills fan and he credits his uncle for turning him on to the team. His father is a Dallas Cowboys fan and Couture is too young to remember Super Bowls XXVI or XXVII, so he said there's been no trash-talking over the course of his years.

Couture is in his eighth full season with the Sharks and has played in 86 career playoff games. He was a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate in 2016, collecting 10 goals and 30 points in 24 playoff games as the Sharks broke through to make the Cup final for the first time in their history.

Couture and the Sharks are postseason veterans. He wants the Bills to experience that feeling too.

"It's tough. You want them to be successful," he said. "You want that organization to be successful for the fans, the way people support that team. I have a lot of buddies who are Bills fans as well. It's tough following a team that hasn't been in the playoffs going on 18 years now. It's been difficult. Maybe this can be the year."

Couture last made it to Orchard Park for a last-second loss to St. Louis in 2012, where he was photographed with Stevie Johnson. He said he attended the Bills' second-half flameout last year in Oakland, a game that saw a 10-9 halftime lead turn into a 38-24 defeat at the hands of the Raiders.

"That second half wasn't good," he said with a pained smile. "But that's all part of it. I don't follow the two teams out here much. I'm a Bills fan through and through."

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