SAN JOSE – There are losses that sting, such as the Sharks’ falling on a last-second goal to Columbus on Thursday, and then there are losses that are categorically embarrassing.
It was the latter for the Sharks on Saturday afternoon at SAP Center.
The Buffalo Sabres, probably the worst team in the NHL, used a pair of third period goals to earn their first regulation victory of the season, 2-1 over a sinking Sharks team that looked fatigued, confused and unfocused for much of the night.
San Jose (4-4-1) saw its losing streak was extended to four games, as it heads into Anaheim on Sunday to face the team that started the day with the NHL’s best record and a seven-game winning streak.
Buffalo (2-7-0) had scored just one goal in its previous four games, all regulation defeats. Its only previous win came in a shootout against Carolina.
After two uneventful, sleepy periods, play opened up in the third with the Sabres jumping out to a 2-0 lead.
Cody Hodgson got things started. A centering pass from behind the net by Drew Stafford hit Scott Hannan’s skate and went right to Hodgson, who cleaned up the loose puck in the crease at 3:43.
A little more than two minutes later, Nick Deslauriers scored on the rebound of a Cody McCormick shot, after McCormick was given room to walk towards the circle from the along the wall.
San Jose finally seemed to awaken after falling behind by two, and Brent Burns’ second goal of the year just 13 seconds after Deslauriers’ marker brought the Sharks back to within one. The defenseman’s shot snuck through Michal Neuvirth at 6:10, after a strong shift by the Sharks’ third line of Chris Tierney, Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto, the only effective line the Sharks had all afternoon.
Wingels and Mirco Mueller both had chances to tie the score with looks from the slot about midway through regulation on back-to-back shifts, but goalie Michal Neuvirth held his ground.
Late in the game, Neuvirth ate up a Burns snap shot from the circle, while Joe Pavelski flung one high on an open look from the high slot.
The lack of mental focus from the Sharks’ top players was especially evident in the second period.
First, Logan Couture failed to give Patrick Marleau the puck at the offensive blue line, in what could have been a partial breakaway. Instead, Couture held on to the puck too long and ended up bouncing it off of Marleau’s skate when he finally decided to advance it.
Seconds later, it looked like the pair could make up for the blunder on a two-on-one rush, but Marleau’s cross-ice pass was broken up by Tyler Myers just about midway through regulation.
Pavelski was off of his game, too. He flubbed a one-timer about seven minutes into the middle frame, and late in the period turned the puck over in the offensive zone, leading to a Sabres rush the other way that resulted in a Hannan tripping minor at 18:45.
The Sharks announced a crowd of 17,370, not a sellout for the first time since Dec. 3, 2009.
Buffalo has won seven straight against San Jose.
The Sharks entered the game with at least one power play goal in six of eight games, but failed on their only opportunity against Buffalo.
The Sabres were 0-for-3, and are now 0-for-30 on the year.
Alex Stalock played for the first time since he struggled in a 4-0 loss at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. He finished with 13 in his first career appearance against Buffalo.
Neuvirth, formerly of the Washington Capitals, beat the Sharks for the first time with 29 saves. He had been 0-3-0 in his career vs. San Jose.
Mueller returned after a two-game absence, paired with Burns. Jason Demers did not play for unspecified reasons, despite taking warmups.
The Sharks’ bottom six continued to be a jumble from game-to-game, with Chris Tierney getting back into the lineup to center Wingels and Nieto on the third line. John Scott replaced Tye McGinn on the fourth line.
San Jose sent Eriah Hayes to Worcester on Friday.
After Anaheim on Sunday, San Jose’s trip continues in Colorado on Tuesday and Minnesota on Thursday. The Sharks return for a brief two-game homestand on Nov. 1 against the New York Islanders and Nov. 6 vs. Vancouver.