When the San Jose Sharks come to Buffalo for a Tuesday night matchup, the Sabres will have the opportunity to send their winning streak to double digits, something the team hasn’t done since October 2006. That season’s Sabres opened the year with 10 straight victories, tying a franchise record set by the 1983-84 team.
The winning streak reached nine on Saturday in a nail biter in Detroit. Sam Reinhart’s goal in the seventh round of the shootout sealed the deal and sent Buffalo home from its brief road trip as the no.1 team in the NHL with 34 points. Linus Ullmark earned a well-deserved first star of the game honor, stopping 35 of 37 shots in regulation and six of seven in the shootout. He also saved the day in overtime with a stellar glove save on Detroit’s Trevor Daley off a clever pass from Dylan Larkin.
In the words of the immortal Rick Jeanneret, Jeff Skinner has been hotter than a firecracker as of late and scored yet again. He was surpassed for the NHL lead by Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, who had a five goal game last night, but Skinner remains in second place with 18 and has nine in his past nine games. Tage Thompson scored on a missile in the third to continue his surge and kept Buffalo alive in the shootout with a dazzling move that took Red Wings G Jimmy Howard out of his pants.
The streak has made Buffalo the talk of the league and puts them in place to tie the team’s record for consecutive wins. But if these Sabres want even a chance to break that record, they’ll first have to get through a familiar face.
Tuesday’s game will draw intrigue for a different reason as well, as it will be Evander Kane’s first return to Buffalo since he was traded to the Sharks this past February. Though he remains a bit of a polarizing figure to Sabres fans, Kane left the team on good terms after spending parts of four seasons at KeyBank Center. Before coming to Buffalo, Kane was poorly regarded by the NHL and its fans alike for his penchant for off-ice drama and conflicts with teammates. Sabres fans were undoubtedly bracing themselves for this upon his arrival, but Kane cleaned up his act and left Buffalo a different player.
Like many others, I was wary of Kane at first, but I’ll never forget the moment that changed my opinion of him. On January 10, 2016, Buffalo was in Winnipeg facing the Jets. It’s been well-documented that Kane was not popular with Jets’ fans, especially after an incident with Dustin Byfuglien became public. As one could expect, the former MTS Centre booed vociferously whenever no.9 on Buffalo touched the puck. Reinhart scored twice to help stake Buffalo to a 3-2 lead late in the third.
With under a minute remaining and the Jets’ net empty, Kane intercepted a pass and carried the puck towards the empty goal with Reinhart trailing. There wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that Kane wanted nothing more than to get the empty-netter and stick it to the crowd, and it would have been quite understandable if he had. However, he instead passed to Reinhart, who cashed it in to complete his first career hatrick. It was a remarkably selfless play and made me realize there’s more to this guy than what we had been seeing.
Some Sabres fans may still dislike Kane and see him as an egotistical prima donna, but he turned over a new leaf in Buffalo and was one of the team’s only good players when he departed. Buffalo helped him turn it around and tap into his potential, and he thanked the fans and city with a farewell video on Twitter after the trade was announced. It will be very interesting to see the reception that he gets at KeyBank Center.
Buffalo has fared well vs. San Jose more often than not in the past and are 24-10-6 against them all-time. The Sharks have won their last four meetings, however, and have been consistent as usual this season. Buffalo has shown incredible resolve throughout the streak and have found ways to rally every time it was needed. Tuesday’s game is sure to be a good one. Will the Sabres make history? Or will the Sharks play spoiler? Be sure to watch to find out, 7:00 PM puck drop.