The Sabres' goalies strive to be better this season

The total team defense must also improve for better results

Paul Hamilton
September 19, 2019 - 3:04 pm

Photo: Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports


Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Last season, the Sabres had no defensive structure. It was obvious in many games that players were just all over the place and had no idea where they were supposed to be.

That goes hand and hand with the goaltending.

Yes, the Sabres need a better save percentage from Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark, but they also can’t be worried about 2-on-0 layups and uncovered backdoor players for easy goals.

Hutton finished 18-25-5 with a 3.00 goals against and .908 save percentage. Linus Ullmark was 15-14-5 with a 3.11 goals-against and .905 save percentage. I think if Ralph Krueger and his staff come up with some structure, the team will cut down on the goals-against.

I remember the days when Martin Brodeur would play 77 games per-season. That’s not done anymore and Hutton said, “You get into the flow of a season and sometimes games just fly by and then sometimes one game seems like a dogfight.

“I think the game with the way it is now, we train and practice so hard to maintain the speed and how hard it is on our bodies compared to the old days, so for me last year playing 50 and I think if we can just can into a good rhythm with Linus and I and truthfully, the better both of us play, the better it is for everybody.”

Hutton said he always wants to play, but he doesn’t put an exact number of games as a goal, “There’s always a internal competition that in public gets created more by media, but internally you’re almost just playing against yourself and as you push yourself, it creates a better feeling for the team. So I don’t even know if I have an exact number.”

Linus Ullmark thinks the mental part of the game takes more of a toll than the physical part. Hutton said, “I think it can be a little bit of both. I think as you get older you do a good job of the physical side of it, but sometimes in the dog days of the season, there’s not a lot of light in the schedule and you’re going all the time. So that’s when you have to manage the mental side of it.”

Ullmark has a little bit of a different view, “It’s always good to work on technique, but it’s just a small part now a days. The game is so fast you just have to have the mentality to not let the puck through you and I think it comes down to more of a mental aspect of the game to be there every night.

“Coming into this season, we have a lot of great personnel behind us like Katy Turner our mental coach, who’s terrific and whenever there’s any doubts or questions, I talk to her.”

Hutton and Ullmark have a good working relationship and are friends. Of course, they both want the net, but Hutton said, “At the end of the day, you come to work for the Buffalo Sabres. You come to play for the city of Buffalo and compete for the fans and the team and the organization, but it’s human nature to want to play and want to be the guy, but undermining each other and not supporting each other isn’t the way to do it. You need to have each other’s back because there are going to be times when he’s called upon and I’m struggling or we need to support each other and help each other through tough times and last year was a learning curve for both of us. He’s a heck of a goalie and he keeps me honest and makes me want to work harder.”

Hutton knows he has to play better if the Sabres are going to be better, but he also knows the team has to be more consistent defensively because it’s the teams that do that that win the Stanley Cup, “I don’t want to sit here and say that I was not at fault. There’s obviously times I could’ve been a lot better and I’m the first one to admit that, there’s times you’d want one back or do things differently and certain games and there were times where I thought I played really well and it was just a product of too many chances, we just don’t want to be that team where you don’t know what you’re going to get every night.”

I’m a big believer in the best goalies are the ones that make the big save at the big time. Look at Grant Fuhr’s numbers, he’s in the Hall of Fame because when the Edmonton Oilers needed a big save, he was there for them. Hutton said, “Sometimes it’s not how many you make, it’s the timely ones and in an 82-game season, it’s a grind and there’s nights where you give up a goal at the wrong time and it can be a back breaker. So a big timely save is what we need and I think for us it’s something that we’re going to thrive on this year and it’s something that Ralph’s talked a lot about here is being a little more consistent in our end and being more predictable.”

Ullmark made 19 saves on 20 shots in just under 30 minutes of work in Columbus. It was his first game and he knew it would take a little time to get things back, “It takes a couple of minutes to get your grove on after summer. I had to get the speed of it and the movements. I mean, you can practice all summer as much as you want, but when it comes to a game it’s a whole different beast to tame.”

Ullmark knows he has to play better for the Sabres with reach their goals. He said he gave it a lot of thought during the summer, “A lot, I’m looking forward to this season and I’m aiming to be able to play my game for the whole season and not have any dips. There are going to be one or two games that are going to be bad, but I’m just going to try to keep them as few as possible.”

Ullmark was an AHL All-Star before making the NHL full-time last season. He said there was a lot to the jump in leagues, "It’s a long season, and it’s way different than being in the minors with all the travels and the different time zones and just being there every night, it was tough. So coming into this year, it’s going to be a lot easier mentally because you’re prepared for everything a lot more.”

The Sabres head to Toronto on Friday for preseason game No. 3 against the Leafs. Krueger said Rasmus Ristolainen and Marcus Johansson will play this weekend.

The Sabres announced that Brandon Montour is out for the rest of the preseason with a hand injury. Scott Wilson and Casey Fitzgerald are day-to-day. Krueger would not confirm if Montour broke his hand. He said Montour won't be ready off the hop, but pretty soon after he will be.

Here's how Thursday's lines looked, highlighted by the players who will play Friday in Toronto:


Vesey - Eichel - Reinhart

Skinner - Cozens - Rodrigues

Olofsson - Asplund - M. Johansson

Larsson - Ruotsalainen - Girgensons


Elie - Sobotka - Thompson

Smith - Mittelstadt - Okposo

Dea - Porter - Lazar

Sheary - Malone - Oglevie


Dahlin - Ristolainen

Jokiharju - Nelson

Scandella - Miller



Gilmour - Borgen

McCabe - Hickey

Bryson - Redmond




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