In win column on 3rd attempt
It turns out a little hard practice was the right recipe for victory. And it didn’t hurt that the Sharks were playing a winless team.
Timo Meier, Chris Tierney and Tomas Hertl each scored for the first time this season and goalie Martin Jones made 23 saves as San Jose picked up its first win, 3-2, and dropped the Buffalo Sabres to 0-3-1.
The Sharks, who lost their first two games before going idle for four nights, were put through their paces in practice Monday through Wednesday before hitting the ice with a number of lineup changes and a more determined attitude Thursday night at SAP Center.
“I’m for sure happy for two points because it was big for us,” Hertl said. “We played great — all four lines — and Jones was good. We had a lot of chances after a big forecheck. This is how we have to play now.”
Defenseman Joakim Ryan made his NHL debut and, with the addition of rookie Tim Heed, the San Jose blue line featured a different look from the first two games. Paul Martin’s ankle flared during practice early in the week, and he was placed on injured reserve.
Ryan logged 21:24 of ice time while paired with Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns. Heed, who skated for 13:10, played mostly with Brenden Dillon. Only the shutdown pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun remained intact.
“The nerves were there early, but as the game went on you get into it,” Ryan said. “You can feel it’s more intense, the pace is quicker, guys are on you quicker. It’s definitely a step up from the preseason.”
Said Joe Pavelski of Ryan and Heed: “They were solid (and) fit right in. They had good training camps. They’ve been around this group a little bit. We’re excited (for them) to step in and play that role they played tonight.”
With the score 2-2, Meier scored at 14:30 of the second period to give the Sharks their third lead of the night. Meier jumped on a loose puck that Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen turned over in front of goalie Robin Lehner, who had just stopped a screen shot off the stick of San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi.
“We want to build off that,” Meier said. “We had a good week of practice. I think it’s just about our mind-set and sticking to our identity. We have to go out every night and compete hard.”
Buffalo had tied it 2-2 at 6:50 of the middle period when Heed got caught and allowed the Sabres to break in 2-on-1. Jack Eichel managed to thread a pass through Dillon, and Jason Pominville tapped in his second goal of the night.
San Jose scored the initial goal of the game for the first time this season. With defenseman Marco Scandella off for slashing Logan Couture just 36 seconds after the opening faceoff, the San Jose power play went to work.
Kevin Labanc spotted Hertl in good position at the far post and, from the right point, let go with a shot-pass that Hertl had only to redirect past Lehner at 2:15.
Labanc was instrumental on the power play, moving the puck with quick decisions and keeping the Buffalo penalty killers off balance.
Buffalo struck at 12:26 to tie the game 1-1, however. Pominville scored his first of the game as a trailer after the Sabres broke into the San Jose zone 2-on-2. Dillon got caught at center and found himself out of position to locate Pominville, who beat Jones cleanly from the slot.
The Sharks had an answer at 15:11 as Donskoi dished a nolook back pass from behind the Buffalo goal to Tierney, who potted his first goal of the season as Lehner got caught anticipating the puck coming out on the other side.
“I’ve seen him do it a couple times in practice, so I had a feeling something tricky was coming when he gets that much time with the puck behind the net,” Tierney said. “I just put my stick down.”
Timo Meier exults after putting the Sharks ahead to stay with his first goal of the season.