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UPL Recalled as Skid Stretches to Seven

November 18, 2022, 12:02 AM ET [1084 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
First and foremost, to everyone in the greater Buffalo area: be safe out there as the Lake Erie storm clouds begin to descend on Western New York and the snow starts to fall. Stay hunkered down if you can, grab a snack and a beverage, and get ready for the show. Just don’t go full Jack Torrance while cooped up inside, even if the Sabres’ seven-game losing streak and 11-year playoff drought might make you want to wander into a maze and take a nap.

All losing and no winning makes Hank a dull boy.
All losing and no winning makes Hank a dull boy.
All losing and no winning makes Hank a dull boy.

Anyhoo, the Sabres have recalled goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukonen from the Rochester Americans of the AHL in the wake of Eric Comrie’s injury against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. Here’s the play on which Comrie was injured:

There’s no point in assigning blame to Rasmus Dahlin for the hit on Mathieu Joseph which led to the collision with Comrie. Dahlin was attempting to eliminate a scoring chance and it went awry. These things happen. As a result of the unfortunate play, UPL will likely be given a chance to show that he’s ready to stick in NHL for good with Comrie on the shelf for at least a little while.

UPL has played nine games for the Amerks to this point* and has amassed one assist (nice) along with an .898 save percentage and a 3.07 goals-against-average. Insert joke here about how UPL will fit right in with the Sabres goaltenders who also have sub-.900 save percentages if you like, but the story of UPL’s season is an extension of the Sabres season so far as the Amerks have had to cope with the loss of several defensemen as the result of injury callups to Buffalo.

The Amerks have been without the services of Lawrence Pilut, Jeremy Davies and Kale Clague at various times throughout the year, which means that the team’s defensive depth has been tested thoroughly in this still-young season. UPL has likely had to struggle with some sub-optimal defensive zone coverage at times due to the unfortunate reality of playing behind some ECHL-caliber defensemen. Besides, UPL has always performed better in the NHL rather than the AHL as evidenced by his .913 save percentage in the NHL versus his .895 save percentage across 69 games in the minors.

With the Sabres on a losing skid, and the major league club’s goaltending looking suspect to this point, UPL has an excellent opportunity to stake his claim to a regular job while relegating either Comrie or Craig Anderson to a spot in the press box if-and-when all three goaltenders are healthy. This is obviously putting the cart before the horse here without having seen UPL play a game this season for the blue and gold, but if he performs well and more importantly, if he wins, then the Sabres will have no choice but to keep him on the roster. The goaltending simply hasn’t been good enough to this point, even if it’s also true that the defensive play has been – shall we say – suboptimal and that play has contributed heartily to the sub-.900 save percentages of both Comrie and Anderson.

It's understood and accepted that the team’s defensive lapses have contributed to point-blank shooting opportunities for the opposition and that the Sabres goaltending has been left out to dry on many, many, many occasions this season. It’s also true that the Sabres haven’t gotten a stellar goaltending performance from one of their two primary netminders in over a month. A team simply can’t live that way; a team needs their goaltender to occasionally show up and show out and steal a game the team otherwise wouldn’t have won.

That hasn’t happened.

Is it unfair to expect UPL to come to the Sabres and deliver that kind of performance? Yep! It’s also a necessity at this point with the Sabres’ primary goaltender hurt. Anderson is well past an age where he can be counted on to carry the load for an extended time.

As for the losing streak itself, it still feels premature to blast this team and bury the franchise while the squad's underlying numbers all look pretty positive (with the exception of high-danger-chances-against). The numbers say that this team has what it takes to score offensively, and perhaps when they get Mattias Samuelsson back on defense they can stop the defensive hemorrhaging that has plagued them throughout the losing streak.

Maybe UPL can also get the team a win here-or-there that they otherwise wouldn’t get.

There are also things the team can do to help themselves. Every player not within spitting distance of a point-per-game pace can-and-should decide to step up and occasionally make a physical statement within a game to wake up the team when things aren’t going well. We all loved that element from Dylan Cozens in years past and this team desperately needs that kind of energy now more than ever. Guys need to play outside of their character and try to insert some energy into the team when the bench becomes lethargic.

There will be plenty of time to eviscerate ownership, management and coaching later, but there are still signs in the underlying numbers that this team isn’t an absolute dog. Fans certainly don’t want to hear that hemming and hawing, and that’s understandable. Patience is at an all-time low, and trust me, if this season goes completely sideways then there will be a verbal flaying of the franchise.

We’re just not there yet.


*(This jumped off the league stat sheet while perusing the AHL stats page: Williamsville native Andrew Poturalski of the Coachella Valley Firebirds is currently third in AHL scoring with 5 goals and 13 assists for 18 points in 10 games played. Congratulations to one of Western New York’s own on his terrific start. The 28-year-old center attended Nichols between 2008-11 and has subsequently played at nearly every level of amateur and professional hockey since, with stops in the OJHL, NCAA, USHL, AHL and NHL. Best of luck to him on his continued journey.)
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