NHL Rink Wrap: Sabres lose, but Sharks stay undefeated

NHL Rink Wrap: Sabres lose, but Sharks stay undefeated
Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Top player from Friday in the NHL

Logan Couture, Sharks

Plenty of Sharks players absorb blame for the past couple seasons of futility. Unless you dig deep into “analytics,” you might not realize that Logan Couture hasn’t always been the difference-maker the Sharks hoped for.

So far in 2021-22, Couture’s been absolutely on fire, though.

Couture earned the top star for Friday in the NHL with two goals and an assist, helping the Sharks stay undefeated. Couture filled up the box sheet, earning a +4 rating, firing six shots on goal, and taking his first penalty of the season.

He’s now up to seven points in four games, with only one of those points coming via the power play. Impressive.

Highlights from Friday in the NHL

If nothing else, Erik Karlsson can still wire a shot:

One of these days, Denis Gurianov‘s going to spend a whole season out of the Stars’ doghouse, and have a big year. A few glimpses are better than none:

Every now and then, Zack Kassian shows the sort of touch you’d expect from a former first-round pick. This was one of those times, and it made a difference for Edmonton:

Kings’ Doughty injured by knee-to-knee hit

Could Stars defenseman Jani Hakanpaa receive a suspension for his hit on Kings’ blueliner Drew Doughty? Hakanpaa received a major penalty and game misconduct for his hit on Doughty.

It’s unclear if Doughty will miss additional time, but he was not able to return to Friday’s Kings – Stars game.

Friday’s NHL takeaways

The Sabres’ undefeated streak ends …

We’ve seen Sabres teams fall off after longer winning streaks to start seasons. Yet, considering just how dour things have been for Buffalo, their season-opening three-game winning streak felt like a mirage in a desert of medical disagreements and wider mismanagement.

But, it had to come to an end sometime. It turns out, the Sabres lost their first game of the 2021-22 NHL season by falling to the Bruins. That said, it wasn’t all bad.

Perhaps freed from the defensive-minded Ralph Krueger, the Sabres have been looser and more dangerous under Don Granato. The end of a lost season and the early, yawning stages of this new one don’t provide enough of a sample size to draw lasting conclusions. Yet, for a team that needs every bit of optimism … some positive notes.

Consider the underlying stats from the Sabres’ first loss of the season:

NHL Rink Wrap: Sabres lose, but Sharks stay undefeated streak
via Natural Stat Trick

Don’t chalk those strong “fancy stats” to the Bruins gaining an early lead vs. the Sabres, either. During the first period, the Sabres generated an 8-2 advantage in high-danger chances at five-on-five (16-9 overall).

These impressive numbers don’t erase much of the doubt about the Sabres’ season, overall. Still, if Granato’s system can get the most out of players, imagine how effective things could be if those players improve.

(In other words, the Sabres lost their first game of the season, but it’s OK to call this a moral victory.)

… but the Sharks stay undefeated

While the Sabres lost their first game, the Sharks remain one of the NHL’s undefeated teams (4-0-0) after beating the Maple Leafs on Friday. The Sharks and Sabres reversed narratives beyond a win and a loss, too.

Loss or not, the Sabres actually played a pretty sound overall game vs. the Bruins. On the other hand, the Sharks remained undefeated despite the Maple Leafs carrying much of the play.

To some extent, the Sharks winning less-than-perfectly is about as promising as if they won playing immaculately. “Stealing” victories here and there is plausible for teams with good or great goaltending. That hasn’t been a theme for the Sharks lately, who’ve endured some of the worst netminding in the NHL. Some solid (or even great) goaltending could be huge for this team, sporadic or not.

There are some “buts,” though.

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Through four straight wins, the Sharks’ power play is at an unsustainable 33-percent. If you combine the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, the Sharks converted at a 15.9-percent rate, fourth-worst in the NHL.

Even more dramatically, their penalty kill’s been perfect (100 percent). As sneaky-strong as the Sharks’ PK has been recently, that penalty kill will naturally sink.

Still, if you close your eyes and imagine a variety of Sharks scenarios, it isn’t that outrageous to picture them nabbing a playoff spot, is it? Bursts of competence won’t make Erik Karlsson’s contract a bargain. At 31, Karlsson’s not necessarily doomed, either.

The Sharks have a long way to go to rebound from two miserable seasons. Friday showed some of the pros (they won!) and the cons (they were outplayed).

Aside from battlers of California, most of us would prefer a semi-decent Sharks team over some sinking bummer. So here’s hoping they at least will be worth watching this season — even after the Sharks’ undefeated streak ends.

Hurricanes: bunch of fun, bunch of jerks … both?

For ages, people have asked NHL teams and players to loosen up. At times, there are “be careful what you wish for” elements to the moments when the damns of cliches break. After your favorite player irritates you, sometimes you grow nostalgic for canned phrases.

Those thoughts come to mind after the Hurricanes elaborately trolled the Canadiens about Sebastian Aho, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and more once again.

The Hurricanes went with some deep cuts to troll the Canadiens, including a “Did the Habs Lose?” website that got hacked or pretend-hacked or … (sighs, shrugs).

Are these cheeky shenanigans, or cruel ones? It’s hard to tell if the Hurricanes are still a bunch of jerks ironically, or are actual jerks now.

Saturday’s big story

Can the Canadiens finally win a game?

All of those Hurricanes quibbles aside, it’s also understandable that some will bask in the Canadiens’ struggles. Even beyond fans of the Bruins or Maple Leafs.

Whether you’re rubbernecking at the Habs car wreck or a fan begging for the agony to stop, it’s hard to look away from the 0-5-0 Canadiens. Saturday presents another opportunity for operatic spectacle.

At 2-1-0, the Red Wings have been friskier than expected. That said, the Red Wings haven’t established themselves as formidable. If the Canadiens drop their sixth in a row, people will be eager to point out that they fell to a team seemingly headed toward the cellar.

The Canadiens aren’t in the best situation to eject Marc Bergevin from the hot seat. Yet, if this keeps up, the rumblings will turn to a roar. Losing to the Red Wings would turn that volume up quite a bit.

Friday’s NHL scores

Sharks 5, Maple Leafs 3
Bruins 4, Sabres 1
Stars 3, Kings 2 (OT)
Oilers 5, Golden Knights 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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