Soak it in: Buffalo Sabres are good

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Remember when the Buffalo Sabres were bad?

The answer is we all do. You don’t have to go that far back in the annals of hockey history to find some woefully bad Sabres teams.

But those days of Buffalo being the butt-end of jokes and all of that sort of thing seem to be over with. The western New Yorkers aren’t simply toiling as an embarrassing team anymore. It’s been a bit of a process to turn the ship around, but the fruits of that labor seem to be flourishing so far this season.

Case and point: Buffalo has now cobbled together five straight wins, including triumphs over the Tampa Bay Lightning — tops in the Atlantic Division — and the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild, teams sitting second and third in the Central Division, respectively.

They’ve embraced the grind, have learned to weather storms and are still standing at the end of it.

In Winnipeg on Friday, the Sabres were outshot 12-4 in the first period and survived. In Minnesota on Saturday, they were again pelted in the opening frame, doubled up 18-9 on the shot counter, and still found a way to only be down by a single goal.

And in both games, they battled back in the third, tied the game and then won it late in regulation or in extra hockey, as was the case in Winnipeg. And they did it on back-to-back nights when you’d have forgiven them for packing it in early against Minnesota after Friday’s game, which needed 65 minutes and seven rounds of a shootout.

Summer acquisitions of Jeff Skinner and Carter Hutton have played massive roles in Buffalo’s ascent up the standings a month-and-a-half into the season.

Skinner has 14 goals and 21 points in 20 games this season after coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Hutton is 4-0-0 in his past four games with a 1.42 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.

Linus Ullmark is 4-0-1 in his backup role and Buffalo had the 11th best team save percentage coming into Saturday. 

Their penalty kill is in the top 10

Jason Pominville has turned back the clock with nine goals and 17 points thus far. Thirty-five years old and the wear and tear of 1,000 games? Pfft. Pominville is laughing at Father Time. 

And most importantly, they’re resilient.

“I just think we bent a little bit but we didn’t break,” Sabres head coach Phil Housley said after Friday’s win in Winnipeg. “I think last year we maybe would have broke a little more and gave the game away. We hung in there. That’s what’s great about this group, that they stick with it. We make some adjustments in between periods and they follow through with those adjustments. But it’s great for them, they’ve shown the resiliency up to this point in the season.”

The Sabres are simply an exciting team to watch these days and they’re positioning themselves to be in the playoff hunt, both this year and in the future.

Imagine that.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Carter Hutton makes early case for save of the year (Video)

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Desperation paddles saves are the best saves.

It’s not even close.

If you agree (and why wouldn’t you?) then here’s a dandy from Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton that you can pump straight into your veins.

What you don’t see here is the puck going into the back of the next after the whistle had blown.

After Hutton made the save, the refs blew the whistle as the puck was pushed across the goal line. The ref waived off the goal. The NHL’s Situation Room initiated a review on it and the ref indicated to them that he blew his whistle before the puck crossed the line. The call on the ice stood, preserving the save.

Everything leading up to that save fell into place perfectly.

Brutal defense by the Sabres to leave Elias Lindholm of the Calgary Flames wide open at the back door. Hutton is on the other side of the crease with no other option to get over other than to flail his right arm over. And a puck robbed of its life in the comfort of the back of the net.

As far as paddle saves go, this is right up there with the best of them.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Under Pressure: Carter Hutton

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

The pressure on Carter Hutton won’t be coming from the money the Buffalo Sabres paid for his services on July 1.

No, general manager Jason Botterill did the team a solid by signing Hutton to a deal where he makes less than $3 million per season to be a starting goaltender in the NHL.

The risk, financially, is low.

The pressure here is solely cemented in performance. If Hutton strays too far from the career-best numbers he posted this past season in St. Louis, then trouble will be afoot in Buffalo.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Three Questions | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Taking gambles on serviceable backup goalies, hoping that they turn into sufficient starting netminders, doesn’t always pay off (see: Scott Darling).

But with Robin Lehner not panning out, Buffalo needed to make a change. With Lehner becoming a restricted free agent (with no intention of qualifying him) and with Hutton available for the taking as an unrestricted free agent, the Sabres took the leap, as did Hutton.

Hutton comes into a Sabres team that looks vastly different from the team that gave up the third most goals-against in the league last year and the team that put up the least run support in the NHL.

Rasmus Dahlin’s arrival certainly helps on the backend, and the addition of Jeff Skinner should help out up top. More goals-for and perhaps a little more shot suppression will go a long way in Buffalo, if Hutton can perform in the task he’s been handed.

“I think for me my main goal right now is going in to win hockey games,” Hutton told NHL.com after he signed. “I’d love to get into the higher end of [50 starts] just to really give myself a goal. I think I play better when I get more minutes.”

Hutton posted a .931 save percentage last season in 32 games. It was his best season as a backup by far, posting a 17-7-3 record. They’re stellar backup numbers, for sure. But can they translate when you double the number of games played?

Hutton isn’t a proven workhorse, nor is it known how he will adjust to not having exceptional defending in front of him.

The Sabres, despite what they’ve built in front of Hutton, could be in serious trouble if he can’t.

Sure, Hutton’s contract is cheap for a starting netminder, but they have nothing proven behind him if this new marriage doesn’t work out. Linus Ullmark could very well be the future and is slated to come up from Rochester to be Hutton’s backup, but there’s no one to steady the ship should it hit turbulent waters.

All that aside, Hutton has one heck of an opportunity in front of him and if he can take those reins and run with them, he’ll be the steal of this offseason’s UFA class.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Masks of Jake Allen, Carter Hutton to honor kids impacted by cancer

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The St. Louis Blues will hold their Hockey Fights Cancer night during their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday, and both goalies, Jake Allen and Carter Hutton, will be sporting special masks.

Allen, who will back up, saw the concept for his mask design created by Alex Pietrangelo’s niece, Ellie Kannel. Three years ago she was diagnosed with a form of kidney cancer that affects mostly children. Along with a Hockey Fights Cancer logo, the Blue Note and a snake drawing done by Ellie, the names of children who have been affected by cancer will also be featured, thanks to a gorgeous paint job by Jason Livery of Head Strong Grafx.

There will be close to 400 names of kids who have battled cancer on Hutton’s mask when he starts versus the Kings. In the design of the “I Fight For…” cards that players and staff have filled out during the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer month, the mask is a stunning reminder of just how many people the disease touches.

“It’s definitely powerful,” said Hutton via the Blues website. “For them to be able to individualize it with every kid on there, they’ve been through so many battles in their life, it’s going to be a great honor to wear their name. When you see how much cancer affects everyone on a day-to-day basis, I’m just happy to be part of it.”

Created by Jesse Acciacca of Jesse’s Custom Designs, Hutton’s mask will be donated to Friends of Kids with Cancer and will be auctioned off in the future. Allen’s will be up for bid during the team’s Casino Night last this season benefiting St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

The Blues as a team will be wearing bedazzled jerseys during warm-ups in honor of the late Ari Dougan, an 11-year-old who passed away last month following an eight-year battle with cancer. She had formed a very close bond with Vladimir Tarasenko over the last few years and the star forward and Dougan’s family will take part in the pre-game faceoff.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sabres hire Allen to replace Irbe as goalie coach

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The Buffalo Sabres rounded out Dan Bylsma’s coaching staff on Friday, hiring former Chicago Blackhawks goalie development boss Andrew Allen as their new goalie coach.

Allen, 38, replaces the outgoing Arturs Irbe.

A former AHL and ECHL netminder, Allen was with Chicago for the last four seasons, spending the majority of his time tutoring netminders with the club’s AHL affiliate in Rockford. During Allen’s tenure, a number of solid backups rose through the ranks: Carter Hutton (now Pekka Rinne’s No. 2 in Nashville), Antti Raanta (now Henrik Lundqvist’s backup in New York) and Scott Darling (now Corey Crawford’s backup in Chicago).

In Buffalo, Allen will work with newly-acquired starter Robin Lenher and No. 2 Chad Johnson, acquired at last season’s trade deadline.

With this hire, Bylsma’s staff is now complete — Allen will join assistant coaches Terry Murray, Dave Barr and Dan Lambert on the Sabres’ bench.