BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — In the throes of an NHL-record playoff drought approaching teenage angst, the Sabres have opened the 2022-23 season as one of the best teams in the league through two weeks.
Winning four of the opening five games for the third time in 12 seasons, Buffalo boasts the highest per-game goal differential in the league, out-scoring opponents 22-11. The Sabres rank second in scoring (4.4 goals per game) and third in goals allowed (2.2 per game).
Concluding their four-game road trip Tuesday night in Seattle after completing a rare sweep through Western Canada, the Sabres strive for a fourth straight win away from home to start a season for the first time since 2011.
While the league’s youngest lineup leads the NHL in shooting percentage (.151) entering Monday night’s games, outstanding play from veteran goaltenders Craig Anderson and Eric Comrie has stoked the Sabres’ hot start. They have combined for a .943 save percentage that ranks second in the NHL, and would be a team record if it held up for a full season.
The goaltending has meant “everything” to Buffalo’s early success, coach Don Granato said with a laugh after Saturday night’s 5-1 win at Vancouver.
“They are guys that you want to play harder in front of, and work harder for them,” Granato said. “Both experienced goaltenders. They read situations,” and in stopping 29 of 30 shots against the Canucks, the 41-year-old Anderson, “did a tremendous job to not allow a momentum swing. Because if that swung, the outcome is probably different. We were able to stave that off. and I think Andy was a huge part of that.”
Anderson has compiled a .970 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average in winning his first two starts. Comrie (2-1-0), who was signed in free agency after a solid season with the Winnipeg Jets, has a .930 SV% and 3.01 GAA. Comrie’s 46 saves in the win at Edmonton were the most by a Sabres goalie in three seasons, and he followed up with a 40-save effort in Calgary.
Strong goaltending has fortified a defensemen corps that has played with five healthy bodies for most of the past two games. Henri Jokiharju (upper body) and Mattias Samuelsson (lower body) are both on injured reserve, and Ilya Lyubushkin (undisclosed) missed one game after blocking a shot against Edmonton. The Sabres recalled Lawrence Pilut from Rochester to replace Jokiharju, and Kale Clague has been brought up from the minors ahead of the game in Seattle.
Rasmus Dahlin, who leads the Sabres with seven points and has an NHL-record five-game goal streak to start the season, is 12th in the NHL in average ice time (24:26). Owen Power is second on the team and leading NHL rookies at 22:14.
“I think it’s a credit to the shape that these guys are in, and the work ethic that we put into getting ready for the games,” Anderson said. “I think that’s the main thing, that we are sticking together. We are doing it as a unit. One man falls, and the other man steps up.”
But no Sabres have stepped up more often than the goalies have in saving 7.8 goals above expected, best in the NHL, according to TopDownHockey.
Last season, six Sabres netminders combined for an .899 SV% and 3.28 GAA, while saving 20 goals fewer than expected, according to Hockey Reference. Buffalo has enjoyed stretches of hot goaltending from Linus Ullmark, Carter Hutton, Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson in recent years. But consistent goaltending over the course of a season hasn’t occurred since before the Sabres traded Ryan Miller in 2014.
Miller, who will have his No. 30 jersey raised to the rafters at KeyBank Center later this season, visited the Sabres dressing room following the win in Vancouver. Miller won the 2010 Vezina Trophy with a .929 SV% and 2.22 GAA. All-time great goalie Dominick Hasek had a .937 SV% and 1.87 GAA in 1999, the best of his six Vezina seasons.