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Sabres Must Find Balance in Goaltending As Season Wages On

Craig Anderson has been phenomenal - and should be playing more.

Los Angeles Kings v Buffalo Sabres

At 41 years young, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Craig Anderson has looked like a superstar at times this season. He isn’t playing a ton of games, and is only signed to a one-year deal, but he’s been generally sharp. Following Wednesday’s 40-save shutout against the Los Angeles Kings, Anderson has a 2.71 GAA and .921 save percentage in 12 games. Both of those figures are Anderson’s best since the 2016-17 season, when he appeared in 40 games with the Senators. (Note: I didn’t include the four games he played for the Capitals in 2020-2021, because well, that was only four games.)

At any rate, Anderson certainly isn’t playing his age, in a good way. Problem is, he isn’t playing a lot, despite the fact that with him in goal, the Sabres clearly have their best chance of winning.

Anderson is playing well, but doesn’t play back-to-back games and often only plays one game per week. His age is obviously a factor, and Granato has said that he’s best when he’s rested, but at what point does it become unsustainable to have your best goalie only playing such limited time?

Now, I think, is that point - especially if you want your team to be competitive and have a chance at a playoff spot. The Sabres are generally playing well, and lord knows they’re scoring enough most nights. You just need to figure out the goaltending to complete the package.

It’s a tough balance, to be sure, and one I don’t envy Don Granato for having to find.

Your other option in net right is 23-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who has appeared in seven games this season and is 3-3-1. His 4.00 GAA and .861 save percentage are not impressive, and he’s allowed five or more goals in 43 percent of the games he’s played this season, forcing the Sabres score even more to have a chance.

Eric Comrie remains out with injury at this point. In 11 games before his injury, Comrie went 4-7-0 with a 3.62 GAA and .887 save percentage. Looking at the AHL options, Malcolm Subban and Michael Houser are your main men, with 3.54 and 3.17 GAAs, respectively.

Regardless of what the other options right now are for the Sabres, Granato absolutely has to find a balance in goaltending as the season wages on. That needs to happen sooner rather than later if the team hopes to compete for a playoff spot, which they certainly look like they could do.

Comrie remains week-to-week, though he has reportedly resumed light skating. Still, that means he could still be a few weeks out, or more, and December will quickly turn to January and the season roars on in the meantime.

The Sabres cannot play Luukkonen as much as they have been, especially with how many goals he’s been allowing. While I understand & fully respect the need for him to play, it just doesn’t seem to be clicking the way they need it to. Can Anderson handle a little heavier workload to help balance things out? Maybe. There’s only one way to find out, but at the same time, you want to respect the player’s needs and physical condition, and you don’t want him to overdo it and wind up injured, either.

Malcolm Subban is on an NHL contract and could be a call-up option, but he would require waivers to do so. Michael Houser is not on an NHL contract right now. The ideal solution, in my mind, is to play Anderson more often, even just a little more often, and see how he handles that. You can’t sit around and wait for Comrie to come back, because even when he does, he’s not a perfect fix, either. And as for going out and getting another goaltender - well, that doesn’t seem likely, either.

It’s a sticky situation, but the Sabres need to find a balance going forward.