BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's no secret anymore the Sabres are improving their game, in the middle of a four-game point streak, under Don Granato, who took over the team as the interim head coach just under three weeks ago when Buffalo parted ways with Ralph Krueger.
But Linus Ullmark's return has been a major key to the Sabres recent ascent. The Swedish netminder stopped all three shootout attempts in a win over the New York Rangers on Saturday and made 28 saves.
Ullmark ranks second all-time in career shootout save percentage at .857.
"I think he’s probably one of the best goalies in the world. He’s so patient. It’s really hard to kind of go around him," Sabres forward Victor Olofsson said after Saturday's shootout win. "It’s really hard to figure him out. We feel really confident with him in the penalty shots for sure."
"There’s still a lot of teams that I haven’t been up against when it comes to shootouts so I don’t know if I’ll do as well against them," Ullmark said after Monday's practice. "That’s the beauty of going into the shootout. You never really know what to expect out of the opponents. So, that’s what I find kind of intriguing and interesting, as well."
The 27-year-old was also in the net when the Sabres snapped an 18-game winless streak with a 6-1 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday, a game after Buffalo blew a third period 3-0 lead to the Flyers, losing 4-3 in overtime.
"I just knew that coming off that game before, I just had to stop one more puck than the other goalie, but for the other guys, we knew that we had the opportunity to win against Philly in the first game. We just let it slip out of our hands," Ullmark said.
"We knew going into the third that if we just do the same things we’ve done so far and just keep going at it, it’s not going to be of any problem. We’re going to be able to go at it and keep playing the way we do and we’re going to come out with a win. So, it felt like we were in control of that whole game and there was no sense of stress in either of the players which was a very fun thing to do or a fun thing to see.”
The Sabres returned Ullmark, who was out with a lower body injury suffered on February 25, just 10 days Krueger's March 17 firing. Ullmark has been backed up by Carter Hutton, currently out with an upper body injury, Jonas Johansson, who has since been traded to the Colorado Avalanche and Dustin Tokarski this season. The Sabres are 7-5-3 with Ullmark in net and 1-18-2 with his backups so far this season, creating a heavy workload for the Swede moving forward.
"A number one goalie for any team in this league is extremely, extremely important and for those teams fortunate enough to have a tandem," Granato said of his starting goalie.
"Linus, his career has been on a steady incline. He hops in the net now and he’s just in the zone. There’s a calm too him, but there’s also a very focused intensity to him as well. A real good balance. Significant and that’s not a slight to our other goaltenders because as we spoke of, Tokarski was outstanding in the game before. We felt real good about that. Linus is a number one goalie and it’s very nice to have him in."