Sharks eye bounce back vs. struggling Sabres

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The San Jose Sharks look to turn things around when their four-game road trip brings them to Buffalo to play the Sabres on Thursday night.

The Sharks have dropped the first two games on the trip as they work to remain in the Western Conference playoff hunt.

After dropping a 6-2 decision to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, the Sharks have allowed 28 goals in their past five games while going 2-3.

“We’re frustrated because we’re competitors and we don’t like losing,” goalie James Reimer said. “We especially don’t like losing big, but we have to let this sting a bit and then come back tomorrow and work on things.”

San Jose played Tuesday without captain and second-leading scorer Logan Couture (12 goals, 17 assists) who entered the COVID-19 protocol and could miss the final two games of the road trip.

Couture leaves a gap on special teams as well as even strength and it was noticeable in Detroit. The Sharks went 0-for-3 on the power play and allowed two short-handed goals — 37 seconds apart in the second period — to a team that hadn’t scored one in 100 games.

Meanwhile, San Jose is 1-for-16 on the power play in its last seven games.

Alexander Barabanov scored for the second straight game. Timo Meier (assist) has two goals and five assists in the last five games.

Defenseman Mario Ferraro is also in the COVID protocol and San Jose was without forwards Rudolfs Balcers (lower-body injury) and Kevin Labanc (upper body).

“Some teams could lose three or four players and they don’t miss a beat. They’re the better teams in the league, elite teams, and we’re not,” coach Bob Boughner said. “That means we’ve all got to come together and try and find a little more and play a little smarter and a little harder. That didn’t happen.”

The Sabres are struggling as well and look to end a four-game winless streak (0-2-2), though the first loss came on Dec. 17 and they haven’t played since Jan. 1.

The Sabres lost three more players to COVID on Tuesday when they placed forwards Alex Tuch, Anders Bjork, and Peyton Krebs in the NHL’s protocol. They join forward Kyle Okposo and defensemen Jacob Bryson and Casey Fitzgerald.

“We just move forward. I’m happy with our guys today because they practiced to get better,” coach Don Granato said after Tuesday’s practice. “And when we do get all the parts together, I know we’re going to be better having gone through adversity and challenges.”

Defenseman Colin Miller practiced Tuesday after missing the past three games with an undisclosed injury and could return Thursday.

Buffalo returned from the Christmas break with three games in four days, the last one ending with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Bruins.

Vinnie Hinostroza, Jeff Skinner and Tuch scored for the Sabres, who led 3-1 early in the third period. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 37 saves.

“Everything was hard, and our guys found a way to battle,” Granato said. “It wasn’t pretty. (Luukkonen) was outstanding. … He made it look easy.”

Luukkonen, 22, is sporting a 2.54 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in seven games despite allowing four goals in each of his past two.

–Field Level Media

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