In this edition of the Buffalo Sabres News & Rumors; Newsflash: Linus Ullmark is playing well, and Jeff Skinner is back skating among the top-six forwards. Ullmark’s dominance in the shootout continued on Saturday, as he once again stopped all the shooters he faced. He’s now 6-3 with 30 saves on 33 shots faced in shootouts, and his .857 career shootout save percentage ranks second all-time and first among active goaltenders that have faced at least 20 shots. But with all that said, general manager Kevyn Adams is still testing the waters around the league looking for a goalie.
Skinner is finally getting top six minutes, but it turns out the former 40-goal scorer wasn’t all that upset playing where he was on the fourth line with Curtis Lazar and Riley Sheahan. He entered the game Sunday against the New Jersey Devils on the second line with Eric Staal and rookie Dylan Cozens.
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Sabres in Search of a Goalie
There’s talk around the league that the Sabres are kicking tires on a goaltender. Is it a starter? Is it a backup? How much are they willing to move to get what they want? Who are they talking to? I’ll admit, I don’t really have much other than they are talking to teams. There might be more news on this in a week, a month, two months? Who knows.
With Ullmark playing the way he is, GM Adams might just want to stick it out with him as the number one and instead shore up the position on the bench. The Sabres have a solid goaltending prospect in Jonas Johansson that they could keep or trade. Carter Hutton’s struggles last season are well documented. This season, he suffered a head injury against the Philadelphia Flyers and needed some time to recover. He played well in Sunday’s 5-3 loss, minus the game-winning goal. A hotshot from the Devils’ Michael McLeod slipped in between Hutton’s elbow and torso. You can say it was a stoppable shot, but this stuff happens, and overall, the team deserved the loss, as they gave up way too many high-danger chances throughout.
Hutton is still a good back up goaltender in this league. There are some questions about what he could be worth on the trade market. Nobody can say for sure what is going to happen moving forward on the Sabres goalie file, but we do now know that Adams is asking around.
Hall Reunites With Eichel
One of the reasons Taylor Hall joined the Sabres was to have the chance to skate alongside Jack Eichel. The other reason was having the opportunity to play with Staal. Hall told media Friday that Staal has “still got it” and that he just always seems to know exactly where to be, where to put pucks for his linemates. The two played together briefly to start Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Devils. But on Sunday, Hall was reunited with Eichel.
“Whether I’m playing with Jack or Eric, that was my thought coming into this year – there are two really good centremen to play with here and that can create matchup problems for other teams, hopefully,” Hall said.
Hall had two assists in Saturday’s win. That’s good, but goal-scoring remains an issue with the team in general. Victor Olofsson leads the team with four, but the “dynamic duo” of Hall and Jack Eichel has only so far combined for three. Kyle Okposo and Skinner are two players that are expected to produce more goals than they have, which is a grand total of zero. It’s a testament to the team’s inability to score 5-on-5 so far this season.
Tage Thompson isn’t cutting it on the first line, but the size and speed he has aren’t shining through yet. Possibly, he is still feeling the effects of a season-ending injury last year. Before playing this season, he had gone 14 months between NHL games. When he gets back up to speed, Thompson could add some scoring depth, but until he does, the Sabres would be better off with Casey Mittelstadt in the lineup.
This is probably why, just before the start of Sunday’s game, Thompson went back to being a healthy scratch, and Mittelstadt slotted in on the fourth line. The experiment had mixed results, with Mittelstadt’s performance underwhelming those who watched the game.
Skinner’s place on the fourth line has had Sabres fans scratching their heads all season and spawned a #FreeSkinner movement all over Twitter. He finally got his chance on Saturday, though he only played less than four minutes overall with the captain on the top line, because Eichel missed more than half of the third period after he took a puck to the face.
For all the noise, Skinner is on board with coach Ralph Krueger’s use of him this season on the fourth line prior to this weekend’s back-to-back set. Skinner said that he has enjoyed playing with Sheahan and Lazar, two guys that play hard and are good in the faceoff circle, which allows the team to play with the puck more and generate offence.
For all the slack Krueger is getting for it and all the faith he has placed in it, the fourth line with Skinner on it hasn’t actually paid off for the coach. But he has been happy because although they weren’t scoring lots when they were together, they were creating lots of opportunities. A skilled player like Skinner is going to create wherever he is in the lineup. If Sam Reinhart returns soon, we shouldn’t be all that surprised if Skinner slips back down to the fourth line.
Skinner started the game on Sunday on a line with Staal and Cozens. Taxi-squad call-up Mittelstadt took his place on the fourth line. The line tinkering for Krueger will continue throughout the season until he finds some combinations that can provide balanced offence.
Reinhart didn’t skate with the team at practice on Friday and didn’t play in the game Saturday against the Devils. He had suited up for 246 games straight without an injury before being taken out of the lineup for what Krueger called an “upper body injury.” He is listed as day-to-day.
Reinhart scored the game-tying goal in the third period of Thursday’s loss to the New York Rangers and was injured in that game. He has been a solid player for the Sabres so far this season, as his three goals and six points put him fourth on the team in scoring. Before the injury, he was playing significant minutes. He’s a four-time 20-goal scorer, and they will miss his presence in the lineup, especially so on the power play, where Dylan Cozens (he’s still a rookie) is no “Rieno.” Already struggling to score 5-on-5, the rest of the team’s forwards will have to step up.
Mike Carter is a freelance writer and contributor for the Buffalo Sabres with The Hockey Writers and NHLTradeRumors.Me He is @mikecarterlives on Twitter. Mike has been writing professionally since 2012, with stints as a reporter in northern British Columbia and Edmonton, Alberta. He now calls Salmon Arm, B.C. home.