Sabres’ goaltenders Linus Ullmark and Chad Johnson had a rough stretch going for them up until a few nights ago. Going into the contest against the Los Angeles Kings Saturday night, the two netminders had combined for 13 goals against in the previous three games during the Sabres’ West coast road trip. The team couldn’t salvage a single point during the three-game skid, even under Rasmus Ristolainen’s hat trick in Calgary.
The past three games were much nicer to the goaltenders; in fact, their respective performances were the key reasons behind the Sabres staying competitive in any of them, let alone managing to skate off with two victories among them. Ullmark rebounded in a huge way with a stellar outing against the Los Angeles Kings, stopping 20 of 21 shots, which allowed Buffalo to secure its thrilling overtime victory. Just two nights later, Johnson righted his course with his own one-goal outing, his against the Detroit Red Wings, which included a spectacular save as time winded down in the third period.
Ullmark wasn’t able to add another win to his record in the game against the Devils last night, but he should take solace in the fact that he was the only reason the Sabres ever had a chance to win to begin with. While his teammates struggled to find any momentum, Ullmark fended off a slew of great chances thrown his way by the Devils.
The goals he gave up aren’t ones he should be hanging his head about. Sure, Jiri Tlusty’s one-timer was stoppable, but it never should have come about in the first place; it only happened because of a horrendous giveaway by the Sabres in their own zone. As for New Jersey’s first goal, there was no thwarting that. Ullmark’s priority in that case was to stop Mike Cammalleri’s rocket of a slapshot, which he did. That he gave up a rebound is nothing he should be ashamed of; rather, the Sabres defense should be ashamed that they let Lee Stempniak waltz up to the crease unopposed to tap in the rebound.
These strong games by Ullmark and Johnson go a long way to reassuring fans that they can hold down the fort for the time being. It’s completely unknown how effective Robin Lehner will be in his return, and if he’s #1 goaltender material to begin with. That alone would be cause for concern; having his apparent understudies be giant question marks would be even scarier.
But with relatively strong performances being the norm more so than the exception for both Johnson and Ullmark, it’s fair to say that the man on duty in between the pipes is trending toward the bottom of the Sabres’ biggest concerns this season.