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Hamilton Take2: Despite rash of injuries at goalie, Sabres must stay patient

WGRZ/WGR550 Sabres Insider Paul Hamilton says it makes no sense at all to trade valuable young players for a goalie, or to sign one to a pricey free agent deal.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen grabs the puck during the third period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Even getting decent goaltending from Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, the Sabres were only 2-5-2 in his games.

It certainly was a huge upgrade from the goaltending they had been getting, but this team is 5-18-5 since opening the season 5-1-1. Things went from bad to worse on Wednesday when the Sabres found out that Luukkonen has a lower-body injury that will keep him out week-to-week and Malcolm Subban has an upper-body injury that will likely involve surgery and keep him out month-to-month.

That means the Sabres now have four goalies injured as Craig Anderson has been out since Nov. 3 with an upper-body injury and is listed month-to-month, and Dustin Tokarski is dealing with COVID-19 fog and is practicing, but isn’t close to playing.

Once that news broke, the Sabres had to call up Aaron Dell from Rochester and sign the Amerks' other goalie in Michael Houser. Dell is 0-5-0 and has struggled mightily in Buffalo, but he’s 5-0-0 in Rochester. Don Granato said he saw him play Friday and he looked like a different guy.

Houser, if you remember, had to be signed and called up last season after injuries took out Linus Ullmark, Carter Hutton, Tokarski and Luukkonen. He played in his first NHL game at 28 years old and went 2-2-0 overall.

Of course there’s mass panic on Twitter because what will the Sabres do as they compete for 28th place in the NHL? How does it make any sense at all to trade valuable young players for a goalie or sign one to a ridiculous free agent deal when you have three of the best goalie prospects in the NHL?

Kevyn Adams has said time and time again that he’s not going to block the way for Luukkonen, Erik Portillo or Devon Levi. That’s why Anderson and Dell were signed to one-year contracts.

Portillo plays at Michigan, where Owen Power is his roommate, and Levi is at Northwestern putting up some of the best numbers in college hockey. Levi leads the country in save percentage at .953 while Portillo is 17th at .920. Levi’s goals against of 1.38 is fourth in the nation while Portillo is 19th at 2.29. Portillo is second in the country with 16 wins while Levi is third at 15.

Picking up a goalie to satisfy panicking fans who somehow thinks Adams’ plan is flawed makes no sense. The minute Adams starts bowing to fan pressure is the day he should be fired. I think his plan for his young goalies is solid.

There is also criticism that Adams is the Village Idiot because he didn't anticipate getting down to his fifth and sixth goalies. Really? No team and I mean no team is going to survive long-term in a season playing the fifth and sixth goalies in their organization.

The Sabres will likely get Robert Hagg, Kyle Okposo and Alex Tuch back into the lineup on Thursday, but no team can win if they can’t get a save. That’s going to be up to Dell on Thursday and also Houser down the line.

At 6 on Thursday night, ESPN is going to announce the players for the NHL All-Star Game in Vegas. I will be very surprised if Rasmus Dahlin isn’t the Sabres representative. 

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