We’re not quite two months into the 2018-19 NHL campaign and there’s already been no shortage of surprises. Four coaches have been fired (Joel Quenneville in Chicago, John Stevens in Los Angeles, Mike Yeo in St. Louis and Todd McLellan in Edmonton). The Penguins are languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, while the Canadiens, Islanders and Rangers are battling it out for the wild card spots in the East. And in the West, the defending conference champion Vegas Golden Knights have sputtered out of the gate, going into tonight’s action with a sub-.500 record.

But I don’t think there’s any question that the biggest surprise of all has been provided by the franchise that has arguably been the league’s biggest laughingstock for the better part of a decade. I’m talking, of course, about the Buffalo Sabres, who enter tonight just a single point behind the Predators and Lightning for first overall in the entire league. In fact, the Sabres possessed first place in the league all by themselves on Saturday night, prompting the team’s Twitter account to come up with this gem:


Can Buffalo continue its torrid play tonight when it hosts the Sharks, or will San Jose snap the Sabres’ winning streak at nine games? Let’s dig a little deeper into this matchup as I make a prediction for my NHL Pick of the Week.

San Jose Sharks vs Buffalo Sabres Betting Odds

Maybe the oddsmakers didn’t get the memo on Buffalo’s recent play, because they’ve made the Sharks road favorites for this one. Yes, San Jose was -123 chalk at the time of writing, while the Sabres paid +113 as small home pups.

The bookies are also projecting the potential for a lot of goals in this clash, setting the Over/Under at 6 — although they’ve put -120 juice on the Under. That total of 6 is a full goal higher than we’ve seen in six of the last 10 matchups in this series, with the other four opening with an Over/Under of 5.5. However, goal scoring is up across the NHL this season, so it’s not exactly comparing apples to apples when we’re talking about games that were played more than five years ago.

If you think Buffalo’s win streak comes to an end in a big way with a lopsided Sharks victory, the San Jose puck line (-1.5) is paying a hefty +225. But with how much confidence the Sabres are playing with at the moment, it’s hard to imagine them getting blown out right now. If you want the extra insurance of automatically winning your wager if the game goes to overtime or even cashing if Buffalo wins by one, the Sabres +1.5 is your way to go – but you’ll have to lay a steep price of -265 to get it.

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from BetOnline.ag at 9 a.m. eastern on November 27, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

Sharks Struggling Defensively And On The Road

There was plenty of hype about the Sharks coming into the season, but San Jose has yet to live up to the hype. Despite upgrading their defense corps with a trade for perennial Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson, the Sharks have simply treaded water through the first quarter of the campaign with a 12-8-2-2 record. (That may look like it’s four games over .500, but it’s really 12 wins and 12 losses, with four of them happening to come in overtime.)

The biggest culprit in the Sharks’ early malaise has been their play in their own end. San Jose has uncharacteristically struggled defensively, allowing an average of 3.00 goals per game. But maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised by how the Sharks’ defensive play took a hit now that Karlsson and Brent Burns are patrolling their blue line the majority of the time. Both are offensive-minded defensemen, and the tradeoff for all the extra offense from the back end is often a few more pucks in your own net as well.

San Jose’s also had a tough time winning on the road so far in 2018-19, skating to victory in just four of 11 outings (4-5-1-1). Again, that’s a by-product of defensive struggles, since winning on the road in the NHL is often about playing a tight, conservative game to take the opposing crowd out of things. San Jose’s been gashed for at least four goals in three straight road games, including a 6-0 loss in Vegas last time out.

If there’s a bright spot in the Sharks’ lopsided loss Saturday, however, it’s how they tend to rebound from poor performances under head coach Peter DeBoer. San Jose is 20-7 in its last 27 games when it lost its previous game by at least three goals, so we should at least expect the Sharks’ mental focus to be here tonight as they open up a east coast road trip.

Play In Own Zone Keying Sabres’ Winning Streak

Are you a skeptic looking to poke holes in the Sabres’ strong start? it’s not an easy thing to do. Buffalo’s recent hot run is no fluke, thanks in large part to how well the Sabres are playing defensively. Coached by former blueliner Phil Housley, Buffalo is taking a lot of pride in keeping the puck out of its own net, allowing two goals or fewer in six of its last seven games. The goaltending has been solid, and the penalty kill has allowed just two power play goals in its last 10 games.

If there’s an area in which the Sabres would like to see some improvement, it’s at the offensive end of the ice. Buffalo’s overall season numbers in that department look decent (3.04 per game), but the production has seen a bit of a dip over the last 10 games or so. Four times during their nine-game winning streak, the Sabres scored two goals or less in the opening 60 minutes.

When your offense isn’t firing on all cylinders, it’s hard to win games by comfortable margins, no matter how well you’re playing defensively. So even though Buffalo’s red hot right now, the Sabres have had a bit of luck on their side. They’re 6-0 in overtime and shootouts during the streak, something that obviously isn’t sustainable in a 50/50 proposition like OT and shootouts typically are.

One final note to consider for this game is how Buffalo has been a thorn in the Sharks’ side over the years, even when the Sabres have been bad. San Jose has lost 11 of its last 14 games in Buffalo. That may seem like a meaningless trend, but I do think each team has a particular rink or two that they don’t just tend to play well in. Also, once a trend like this develops, reporters start asking the players about it and there can be a snowball effect psychologically.

San Jose Sharks vs. Buffalo Sabres Betting Pick

The oddsmakers are making quite the statement here by making San Jose a road favorite in this spot. Buffalo’s got everyone’s attention with this recent hot spurt and most recreational bettors will want to look to back the hotter team in the Sabres, rather than a Sharks team that has struggled on the road this season. That makes me think San Jose is the sharp side to back in this contest.

However, I’ve got no interest in going against a Buffalo team that is playing with so much confidence at the moment, especially given the Sabres’ history of success hosting the Sharks in recent years. Instead, I’m expecting a tight defensive battle as Buffalo looks to maintain the recipe that has keyed its nine-game spurt. San Jose will look to tighten up its own zone after the 6-0 loss in Vegas, and the Sabres’ offense is sputtering a bit right now.

When you bet an Under, there’s always the fear of a late empty-netter that turns a 3-2 game into a 4-2 game and sends the game Over the total. But when the total is 6, you don’t need to fear that empty netter nearly as much. I don’t see both teams scoring 3 goals tonight, and I don’t like either team’s chances of getting to 4 either. For all of those reasons, I’m on the Sharks/Sabres Under 6 -120 in this edition of my NHL pick of the week.

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