BUFFALO – This campaign, Linus Ullmark’s second in North America, has turned into what the loquacious Sabres goalie thought his rookie season would be like.
“Maybe some call-ups, whatever,” said Ullmark, who will likely start tonight against the Nashville Predators inside KeyBank Center, his first NHL nod since April 9.
Update: Robin Lehner is healthy and will apparently start tonight. Ullmark isn’t dressed.
Early in 2015-16, after only a few AHL appearances following surgery on both hips, Robin Lehner’s high ankle sprain pressed Ullmark into action.
Ullmark, meanwhile, has stayed in the AHL, becoming the Americans’ workhorse goalie. He has only dressed as an NHL backup a few times this season.
“Last year wasn’t really something that I could see coming into the whole season,” Ullmark said. “I was thinking about biding my time down in Rochester the whole year.”
Sticking with the Amerks has helped Ullmark develop. While his numbers don’t wow you – he’s 20-20-2 with a 2.90 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage – he has become the Amerks’ best player and MVP.
In a league-high 42 games, Ullmark has faced a whopping 1,319 shots, 120 more than the next goalie.
“Linus has … played extremely well, I think without a question their best player down there this year,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s done it facing a lot of shots in tough situations, so he’s … kind of proving how good a goaltender he is.”
Ullmark actually has a three-game NHL winning streak he started Jan. 10, 2016.
The Sabres had three goalies on the ice this morning. Lehner joined his teammates late after getting cleared. He sat out Sunday’s disappointing 3-2 loss in Arizona after getting hit in Saturday’s 5-3 setback in Colorado.
“They ran me a couple of times in Colorado, and in the second period (Tyson) Barrie hits me with a pretty big hit right in the head, blindsided me pretty much,” Lehner said. “So I got some small symptoms but it was all neck related and I passed all my testing. So I’m happy it was nothing bad.”
Lehner missed the final three months of 2014-15 after suffering a scary concussion.
“Yes, there’s an extra concern given the history,” Bylsma said. “I’ll reiterate it, just a precautionary (measure) with Robin not being in the game in Arizona.”
Bylsma wouldn’t confirm Ullmark, who was recalled Sunday, will start, although when the Times Herald asked Ullmark, he replied, “I would guess so, yes.”
After losing three straight contests and essentially falling out of the playoff chase, Bylsma switched up his lines this morning, moving captain Brian Gionta to the right wing beside center Jack Eichel and Evander Kane.
Sam Reinhart, meanwhile, moved from Eichel’s line to beside center Evan Rodrigues and Marcus Foligno. Zemgus Girgensons centered the fourth line.
Rodrigues, who scored has scored in two straight games, has impressed Bylsma since being summoned earlier this month.
“Evan has earned a bump in his play with how he’s played,” he said.
Check back later for more on the trade deadline, which hits at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Gionta and some other veterans could be playing their last game with the Sabres.
No players who could be moved will be held out of tonight’s game, Bylsma said.