Game 45: Goaltending, but as a strength
Never mind who the shutouts have come against, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is taking care of the net, something that hasn't happened in ages in Buffalo.
BUFFALO — Seeing a Buffalo Sabres goaltender post a shutout streak of any number of minutes these past few years has been a rare and rather stunning occurrence. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has rattled off two consecutive shutouts and has a shutout streak of 157:55 that he’ll take into his next start, whenever that is.
For what it’s worth, the last time a Sabres goalie posted back-to-back shutouts was October 2019 when Carter Hutton did it against Dallas (25 saves) and Los Angeles (47 saves) and the last time a Sabres goalie had a shutout streak of this length was Ryan Miller in 2010 when his went for 161:35. Luukkonen’s is the ninth longest streak in team history.
In his past six starts, Luukkonen is 5-1-0 with a .956 save percentage and a goals-against average of 1.17. Yes, the shutouts have come against the two worst teams in the NHL (San Jose and Chicago), but the one loss came in a stellar effort against Vancouver in which he allowed one measly goal but also included wins against Pittsburgh, Ottawa, and Columbus.
All right, so they can’t all be against the best in the league.
But the fact of the matter is he’s doing the job and playing extremely well and that’s something Sabres goalies of the recent past haven’t done. Hell, it’s something this year’s Sabres did earlier this year. This isn’t to say beggars can’t be choosers, but when the competition in goal has been more about who’s screwed up the least instead of who’s playing the best, Luukkonen is playing outstanding in goal regardless of competition.
“He’s a young goalie and a young guy that continues to get better every day through the right practices,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “He’s very adamant about making himself better. He’s using every experience that he’s been given, every opportunity he’s had over the last year to become better. He’ll be here early in the morning with Mike Bales, our goalie coach, wanting more clips. He’ll go on the ice early tomorrow wanting more drills and he’ll ask players to shoot on him more. Whether that be Thompson or Tuch or anybody. So, he’s doing the right things to make himself better. I just think we’re seeing the accumulation of him doing the right things over a longer period of time now.”
After a 3-0 win against the Blackhawks on Thursday night, the Sabres have won six of their past nine games and are playing with a bit more confidence and resolve, something that’s been more than apparent in Luukkonen’s performances of late.