Today, we’ll look at Linus Ullmark’s spotless start and a Russian goalie who opened the door for his peers to enter the NHL.
On the ‘Mark
The Buffalo Sabres have been waiting to see the best of Linus Ullmark for a long time. The 2012 sixth-round pick was once the Sabres’ future in net, and while prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has supplanted him in the longterm view, the team still views him as a significant part of their present and near-future.
Still, since his NHL debut in the 2015-16 season, Ullmark has struggled with consistency. His best season was arguably his first when he posted a .913 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.60 goals against average (GAA). He also had a quality start percentage (QS%) of .600. If the Sabres were going to succeed in 2019-20, they needed more from Ullmark while backing up Carter Hutton.
On Friday, he showed that he has the potential to do just that. Facing the Detroit Red Wings on the road, he stopped an incredible 41 shots, earning his third NHL shutout. 21 of those shots came in the final period, and seven came on the power play. One of his most important saves came in the early going when he stopped Valtteri Filppula on a breakaway at 3:16 in the first period.
As the game turned out, that ended up being a huge save. I was just trying to stay in front of him and make myself big. You make that save some of the time, and they score some of the time. Today, it worked out in my favor.Linus Ullmark describing his save on Valtteri Filppula
It may be the best performance of Ullmark’s young career. The 26-year-old is in the final year of his current contract, but will still be a restricted free agent (RFA) when the deal expires. Luukonen is just 20 and is still recovering from offseason hip surgery. His future is bright, but now is the time for Ullmark to secure his longterm spot on the Sabres.
Mylnikov Makes History
With the depth and quality of Russian goaltenders in the NHL, it’s hard to believe that on this day just 30 years ago, Sergei Mylnikov became the first Russian goalie to play a game in the National Hockey League.
Mylnikov’s debut laid the foundation for the many great Russian goaltenders in today’s NHL. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, and Sergei Bobrovsky is the only active two-time Vezina winner. Ilya Samsonov is a young superstar on the rise, and Semyon Varlamov has been a longterm stalwart with the Colorado Avalanche and now New York Islanders. And there are other great Russian goaltenders beside them.
For his part, Mylnikov only played in 10 NHL games. He built most of his reputation internationally, where he was a two-time World Junior and one-time Olympic gold medal winner. He is a member of the Russian and Soviet Hockey Hall of Fame and died too soon in 2017. Though he is gone, he’s not forgotten, and the NHL’s current crop of Russian goaltenders, as well as their teams and fans, are grateful for Mylnikov’s trailblazing.
Goalie ‘Gram: Heritage Festivities
Saturday at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, the Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets will meet for the latest installment of the Heritage Classic. On Friday, the players got to take the ice and get a feel for their temporary digs.
David Rittich, the goaltender for the Flames, made the most of the opportunity, taking his wife Nikola out for a skate in a very sharp team jumpsuit. From the eyeblack to the tuque/beanie to the Flames tracksuit itself, Rittich was living the moment, and we’re thankful Instagram lets us live it along with him. The teams take the ice on Saturday night at 10:00 PM eastern.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.