After beginning the season 0-2, dropping back-to-back games against the Washington Capitals, which saw them lose 2-1 to a career AHL goaltender starting his first-ever NHL game, the Buffalo Sabres looked to come into Philadelphia in hopes of turning around a disastrous start to the season. However, the news wasn’t getting any better the hours leading into their first contest with the Flyers. It would be announced that due to “personal reasons”, starting goaltender Linus Ullmark would not be in the lineup. Which meant Carter Hutton would be making his second appearance of the season. Hutton would take the loss in the season opener, stopping 22 of 27 shots in a 6-2 loss that saw Hutton fight the puck most of the night.
However, Hutton would have a bounceback game, only giving up one goal and scoring Buffalo’s first win of the season 6-1. Staring a .500 record in the eyes the following night, Hutton would get the nod again, but unlike the previous night, this game would be more back and forth with shutdown defense taking the stage. However, Hutton would exit the game after a scary collision involving Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour and Flyers forward Ivan Provorov. Goaltender Jonas Johansson would begin the final period, giving up one goal on nine shots.
The Sabres recorded 40 shots on Brian Elliot, who is now 14-2-2 against Buffalo in his career, but the score doesn’t tell the full story. Buffalo played very well in the offensive zone, recording a higher expected goal-for during even strength at 2.32. The H-E-R line (Hall-Eichel-Reinhart, shout out Kevin Bogdan) dominated again. In their 14 minutes of ice time during even strength, the H-E-R line recorded an xGF rate of 72.60%. Since the start of the season, I’ve been saying it; if this line starts to go on click, they will go on an absolute heater and dominate the MassMutual Division.
Although the results aren’t what we as fans want, this team isn’t what we’ve seen in the past. They play hard for their coach. They get chances consistently and control the pace of the game for long periods throughout games. Even Jeff Skinner on the fourth line, which has had fans pulling their hair out (this fan included), produces scoring chance after scoring chance but just can’t seem to finish. The biggest question mark going forward, though, is in goal. We still don’t know when we will see Linus Ullmark back in net for Buffalo, and no update on the status of Carter Hutton’s injury, which could leave Buffalo with Jonas Johansson as their starting goalie. It is worth noting, though, reported by Chad DeDominicis from SB Nation’s “Die by the Blade” that Buffalo has spoken to a “handful of teams about goaltending in the last 72 hours”. This also comes after Darren Dreger reported from TSN that Sabres GM Kevyn Adams reached out to Columbus on center Pierre-Luc Dubois and Florida on center Aleksander Barkov. So it seems clear Kevyn with a “Y” is ready and willing to make a deal.
Two names that come to mind for this writer are Marc-Andre Fleury with the Vegas Golden Knights and Joonas Korpisalo with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both are proven starting goaltenders in the league and could step right in and give Buffalo an excellent chance to win every game. Fleury would take more finesse to acquire as it would have to consist of Vegas retaining a part of his high 7-million dollar salary and sending picks or prospects to get a deal done. I would prefer Korpisalo, who is on a cheaper contract, younger, and his best years are still in front of him. We all remember his remarkable 85-save performance in last season’s bubble playoff series vs. the team that would go on to win the Stanley Cup, Tampa Bay Lightning. That game would go to five overtimes and consist of an astounding 62 blocked shots by Columbus…..Tampa Bay would go on to have 63 total shots over the 8-period game.
Buffalo will play the Washington Capitals for a second-season series hoping to get to a .500 record. Hopefully, by then, we will have more clarity on who will be in the net for Buffalo. If Ullmark or Hutton isn’t ready to go, Buffalo’s options will be thin between Johansson or Dustin Tokarski, signed in the off-season. Let’s hope there’s some good news on Hutton and Ullmark sooner rather than later for our sanity.
Thanks……I’ll hang up and listen.