By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Fairly or unfairly, the focus was on Carter Hutton on Saturday.
The Buffalo Sabres’ goalie received his first start since Dec. 19 when his team faced the Vancouver Canucks in the KeyBank Center in an afternoon game. But the results came out the same, even if the team around him deserved more of the blame for that.
The Sabres more or less fell apart in the third period, turning a 3-3 game with 14 minutes left into a 6-3 loss that left the 18,509 in the building feeling quite discouraged.
Then again, everyone connected with the Sabres sounded discouraged about this one.
“I’m just trying to battle,” Hutton said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s frustrating. By all accounts, everyone is frustrated.”
“It’s a tough one for sure,” Sam Reinhart added.
Hutton got the most attention because his personal struggles continued. He hasn’t won a game since October 22. His save percentage has dropped to .892, which is unacceptable at this level.
Not much help
The only silver lining in a strange way for the veteran goalie was that the team in front of him hurt his chance of ending that personal skid. Too many mistakes led to too many goals.
“That’s definitely something we can’t accept,” coach Ralph Krueger said. “It was a hell of a hockey game until there were 14 minutes to go, when we turned it into a very painful, unacceptable finish. We know how they play. We respect their skill and how they push the game offensively and like to play an open game. Somehow, we started to play their game than our own. … We have no time to feel sorry for ourselves. The comebacks from down, 2-1 and 3-2, we stayed calm and stuck with it. But (there were) too many individual breakdowns throughout the game.”
What went wrong? A little bit of everything.
“I think just the little things,” Brandon Montour said. “The first one, there was a rebound at the start of the period (that J.T. Miller turned into a 3-2 lead). Then we had a breakdown for a three-on-one rush (ending in Brent Boeser’s second goal of the day). Those things can’t happen. It’s the time of year when we need points. 2-2 going into the third, you have to bear down and find a way to win those games.”
“It’s tough to see what he (Hutton) is going through,” Reinhart added. “A lot of us wish we had been more solid in the defensive zone for him.”
It probably would have been easy for Hutton to put a little of the blame on the layoff between starts. Rust can build up in such situation. To his credit, he did not use that off-ramp.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m a professional. I take care of business. When you get back in there you get in a routine. I don’t think that made any difference. If I had played two nights ago or four weeks ago, it didn’t matter. There’s only so much you can control.”
A change in plans?
The Sabres aren’t loaded with options right now. It’s worth noting that Buffalo doesn’t have back-to-back games after this weekend until a set on Feb. 6 and 7. That means Linus Ullmark probably could see most of the action until then; the team has a break between Jan. 18 and 28 around the All-Star Game.
The Sabres certainly could try to put Hutton on waivers in an effort to place him in Rochester. The chances of claiming him probably are pretty small under these circumstances, and Hutton would have some time to find his form against American Hockey League competition. That would lead to Andrew Hammond’s recall from the Americans to take over as the backup goalie for those games. Hammond has been named to this season’s AHL All-Star Game, thanks to a 10-7-2 record and a 2.49 goals-against average.
In the meantime, Buffalo’s defense in total has been a problem for quite a while. The Sabres have given up fewer than three goals in three of their last 13 games – and won them all. But in the rest of the games, they are 1-8-1 – giving up a total of 52 goals in the process.
And in the busy world of the NHL, there’s not much time to find a solution.
“We need to look hard at this. – quick,” Krueger said. “(There’s) no time – 5 o’clock game tomorrow against Detroit. … We have to put a mirror in front of our faces and figure out why we gave up on what is our game. There was no sign of it.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)