The roller coaster ride that is the Buffalo Sabres continues to rise and fall in a terrifying arrhythmia of discord, and there is seemingly no stopping this train of frustration. From a lack of scoring by everyone not named Jack Eichel to a carousel of defenders who give up more high-danger shots than a dive bar bartender – you name it, and on this team, it’s dysfunctional right now.
Except…goaltending. Have the Sabres goaltenders been incredible? At times. Have they been bad? Again, at times they have been. But for a team that lacks consistency with any sort of quality, Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark have been consistently above average…or…above statistical expectation, which is more important for the sake of this piece.
Fans have voiced concern over a lack of development with many of Buffalo’s young players, but there is something to be said for Linus Ullmark and how far he’s come in the past few seasons.
He leads the league in low-danger save percentage at 100 percent – no one has been able to solve him from that range. Only one other goalie (Carolina backup James Reimer) carries same percentage, but Ullmark bests him in every other category, with the exception of high danger save percentage.
Hutton has played one more game than Ullmark, and is slightly behind in LDSv%, with 98.51. This is still just outside the top 10 goaltenders in the league, and better than many goaltenders who are widely considered to be having good seasons; the tandem in Chicago and Braden Holtby, for instance.
At the time of writing, Ullmark is 12th in the league in goals saved above average, compared to goaltenders with 300+ minutes. His 2.89 GSAA is better than 2019 Vezina finalists Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. It is better than the starting goaltenders for the top three teams in the league in the standings. His 43-save performance on Sunday evening brought his adjusted save percentage to plus-1.04 – good enough for 11th in the NHL.
Hutton lags slightly behind in these statistical categories, too; he rates 18th in both adjusted save percentage and goals saved above average. Still, a GSAA of 1.26 indicates he is doing a better job than expected, outperforming his team’s disappointing first quarter.
The team has taken two wins in their last five games – an improvement from the previous five, and just slightly under their season average of .54 standing points per game. The loss to Boston showed improvement from the team as a whole, though, and despite the losing record in that time, Buffalo has done a better job giving their netminders scoring support, coming out only a minus-2 in the five matchups, or minus .67 goals per game. This is far better than the season differential. The increase in scoring has taken some of the pressure off of the goalies, and the improved play is generating more wins.
If there is one place that the goalies are underperforming, it is on the penalty kill. Ullmark’s short-handed save percentage is only .804, and Hutton’s is .870. Ullmark’s shorthanded performance isn’t even in the top-50 for the league, and Hutton is at 29. While it is difficult to pin that shortcoming solely on the goaltenders, there is progress to be made here, which could easily translate to more wins for the team.
At times, it feels as though the Sabres are on the cusp of figuring things out, compared to last year’s utter dumpster fire after the first 25 games. Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton certainly play a role in that, and if they can continue to perform at this level, they really only need a little more scoring support for the team to begin to move up in the standings.