A 6-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers early in the season looks now to have been a complete anomaly, as the Buffalo Sabres were unable to replicate even a semblance of that impressive outing this past weekend. The Sabres lost four of five games on the calendar last week, failing to score a goal for an absurd amount of time and not offering much in the way of exciting hockey for fans to watch.
The Sabres find themselves in a familiar position: at the bottom of their division, and at the bottom of the league standings, currently tied for the worst record in the entire NHL. It will take nothing short of a miracle for this team to turn things around, and they would have to do so amid a flurry of controversy and drama surrounding the team. A tough slate of games this week makes that task no easier.
Sabres Shut Out in Consecutive Losses to the Flyers
The Sabres started their week with another regulation loss against the New York Islanders but were back at it the next day for a two-game series against the New Jersey Devils, probably the easiest four points they would have the chance to snatch up all week. They ended up winning the first contest and losing the second in a comeback overtime effort by the Devils, in which starting goaltender Linus Ullmark went down with an injury and would not return.
Facing the Flyers for a pair of games would prove to turn out just about as well as anyone expected: not great. The Sabres suffered two consecutive 3-0 losses in a back-to-back weekend series against the Flyers, two losing efforts that enraged fans and saw local media turn on head coach Ralph Krueger in the post-game pressers.
Carter Hutton started in net for Saturday’s game against the Flyers and made 36 saves on 39 shots against. The young Jonas Johansson, who was recalled from the Sabres’ taxi squad in lieu of the injured Ullmark, started the second game, making 35 saves on 38 shots against.
Despite captain Jack Eichel and winger Jeff Skinner returning to the lineup in time for the weekend’s games, neither made a major impact, as the team was unable to put the puck in the back of the net for six periods of hockey.
Ullmark’s Injury Puts the Sabres’ Season in Peril
Ullmark might have been the one saving grace of this Sabres season before going down with an injury, which is what makes this one so hard to stomach. He was hurt in the Sabres’ overtime loss to the Devils, making 15 saves on as many shots in the first period before being replaced by Hutton to start the second. It is now known that Ullmark will miss some time with a lower-body injury.
Before getting hurt, Ullmark was 5-4-2 with a 2.44 goals against average (GAA) and .919 save percentage (SV%), a stat line that looks way too good for where the Sabres are sitting right now. It’s no head-scratcher, then, as to why fans had their faces in the palms of their hands after he sustained his injury. Without Ullmark in goal, the season looked all but over.
Hutton has played in seven games this season, winning just once early in the season and posting a 3.20 GAA and .896 SV% in the process. Johansson, who has just eight games of NHL experience to his name, is splitting the net with him for the time being and has made his way into two games this year recording a 3.04 GAA and .915 SV%.
Ullmark was on fire before getting hurt and seemed to be the only Sabre on top of his game night-in and night-out. Without him, the Sabres do not have a starting goaltender capable of winning NHL games for the team. With no NHL-ready options in the AHL pipeline, the only option seems to be looking outside the organization to trade for a goalie or claim one off of waivers.
Perennial backup goalie Alex Stalock was claimed off waivers by the Edmonton Oilers to start this week, leaving some fans wondering why the Sabres would pass on making a move like that one. He would not be the solution to any of the Sabres’ problems, but why not take a shot at bolstering your goaltending depth? It seems insane to sit idly by and do nothing instead.
Jack Eichel and Ralph Krueger Tell Different Stories
Things almost hit the fan last week when it was learned that Eichel had been named a late healthy scratch after skating in warmups against the Devils, but nerves were calmed when Kruger told media members that he simply hurt himself in warmups, and would be on track to play sooner than later.
After the Sabres’ most recent loss to the Flyers, though, Eichel gave an answer that conflicted with Kruger’s, and it was clear that Kruger had been dishonest about Eichel’s status before and after that game. When asked if Eichel had been playing injured, Krueger denied that, and attributed his lack of point production to “a confidence thing.” He was scratched the next game.
Kruger was not transparent about the situation until after the next game, and even then, he still wasn’t. Eichel said himself that he sustained an injury in the first game against the Devils, but Krueger said he had sustained multiple lower-body injuries during the season, and that this most recent one happened in warmups.
Krueger’s lack of honesty had media members questioning: “Why would the head coach lie about an injury?”
There has been speculation that Eichel “threw Krueger under the bus” in order to get him fired, but when questioned about the security of his job as the Sabres’ coach, Krueger said it’s of no concern to him at all.
Sabres Have a Tough Week Ahead
Sitting with sole possession of last place at the bottom of the Mass Mutual East Division™, the Sabres have their work cut out for them if they have any hope of returning to the playoff conversation in the month of March. They play the New York Rangers on Tuesday, who are just two points ahead of them in the standings, and who they have a win against from earlier in the season.
The Sabres will then face the Islanders for three straight games to wrap up the week, who are currently third in the division with 11 points in hand on the Sabres, and whom the Sabres have yet to beat so far this season. They need to get something going, if not to keep their playoff hopes alive, then to give the fans something – anything – to cheer about.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres & San Jose Sharks Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15