Since starting goaltender Robin Lehner went down with an injury on opening night, the Sabres have struggled to find consistency in net. After the injury, the question immediately arose, if the Sabres should seek help from outside the organization to fill the void. Buffalo has decided to move forward with Chad Johnson as the number one goaltender to this point and it would be wise to stick to that plan going forward.
Understanding the Current Situation
After two consecutive seasons of being the worst team in the league, fans are eager to see a winning team. Also with all of the new additions to the roster in the offseason the expectations are high. As difficult as it may be, the best thing to do is look at the big picture. The Sabres are a long shot to make the playoff this season. While the club most certainly will be improved over the last two seasons, they are not a contender by any means. Giving up the assets required to acquire another goalie doesn’t make a lot of sense for the long-term plan. Buffalo is in the next stage of their rebuild, but still are a rebuilding team and need to keep as many assets as possible.
While playing in place of Lehner as the starter, Johnson has not been as bad as his numbers indicate. Currently he has a 2-5 record with a .879 save percentage and a 3.06 goals against average. However, if you take out his most recent start, the 7 goal Montreal game, Johnson has a .906 save percentage with a 2.16 goals against average. The 2.16 GAA would put Johnson in the top 15 in the league currently in that category with goaltenders who have started at least 5 games.
The 29-year-old has been serviceable for the Sabres so far, but it’s the consistency that has hurt him. Johnson doesn’t seem to be able to give the Sabres that big save when they need it. He currently has a 75.71 high danger save percentage which is near the bottom in the league of goalies with at least 5 starts. If Johnson can find some consistency and big moment saves, the Sabres should be able to start to string wins together. The defensive system is much improved over last season allowing only 25.8 shots per game which is 3rd best in the NHL right now. The veteran goaltender needs to seize his opportunity before it’s too late.
Youth Getting Experience
Bringing in another veteran goaltender wouldn’t allow the Sabres to get a look at the talent they have in their system. In particular, 2012 6th round pick Linus Ullmark. The big Swede made his NHL debut against the Devils over the weekend. He fought the puck most of the night in a 4-3 loss. I’m sure nerves played a part in it, but the 22-year-old needs more experience playing the North American game.
He can surely get playing time in the AHL, but some in the organization believe Ullmark is ready be an NHL goalie. The Sabres plan to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them and allow Ullmark to get spot starts while Lehner is out. Ullmark may fluctuate between Rochester and Buffalo in between his NHL starts. The Sabres don’t want him to sit around too long without playing time. I fully expect him to split time with Johnson until Lehner returns, unless the rookie shows he’s just not up to the NHL level.
Don’t look for the Sabres to make a move to bring in a goaltender from outside of the organization. The plan is for the Sabres to explore all options within before they even consider exploring the market. Buffalo already gave up a 1st round pick for Lehner and do not want to give up more assets for another back stop.