BUFFALO – In his two-year career with the Sabres, veteran goalie Craig Anderson had never been pulled from a game before Tuesday’s ugly 7-3 loss to the Nashville Predators.
Despite being the NHL’s oldest player, the 41-year-old’s play hasn’t declined much. Sure, he can’t handle a heavy workload anymore. Age has relegated him to backup status. Throughout his 20th season, he has started about once a week.
Anderson has performed so well at times this year that Sabres coach Don Granato has been asked if he would consider starting him more frequently.
On days where the Sabres have struggled defensively – there have recently been a lot of those – or the goalie has looked wonky, Granato has been reluctant to replace his netminder. Instead, he has often let him battle through and finish the contest.
So it took until Anderson’s 56th game with the Sabres for Granato to yank him. After allowing six goals in the first 35:52 on Tuesday, including three on the Predators’ first four shots of the second period, Granato mercifully pulled him.
“That’s on us,” Sabres center Tage Thompson said. “I think everyone in here takes that to heart. I feel terrible leaving him out to dry like that. That’s something we’ve done not just tonight, the past few games. It’s a tough one to see and we owe him a lot more.”
Rookie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen relieved Anderson, stopping all six shots he faced. The Sabres, who looked downright awful defensively in front of Anderson, settled down a bit in front of Luukkonen, who allowed seven goals Sunday afternoon.
Granato said following the game he thought about ending Anderson’s night earlier.
“You’re contemplating from four on, and then you’re battling, ‘Is it right to put the next guy in? Does he want to battle through more?’” he said in KeyBank Center. “And so, yeah, without question it’s on my mind at that point.”
He added: “The other thing, if we’re playing with this anxiety, do we want to put the second guy in there? And that is a factor, that is a component of the decision. There’s multiple sides, I guess. But I was very happy. Upie looked great.”
Granato said he talked to Anderson “for quite a bit” after the Sabres’ 10th loss in their last 12 games.
“He and I are close,” said Granato, who wanted to keep details of the conversation private. “… I have a lot of respect for him and he knows I have a lot of respect.”
It’s unclear what Anderson’s role could be during the final 12 games this season. These could be his final weeks in the NHL. Right now, the Sabres have four goalies on the roster, a highly unusual number.
If rookie Devon Levi, who signed his entry-level contract Friday, has his immigration paperwork finalized, all four could be on the ice for today’s practice at LECOM Harborcenter.
Goalie Eric Comrie returned to practice Monday after suffering a lower-body injury earlier this month. Granato said he could be available this week.
The Sabres could possibly utilize all four goalies during the next week.
Overall this season, Anderson has compiled a 10-11-2 record with a 3.07 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in 25 games.
During the Sabres’ 2-8-2 run, they’ve consistently melted down defensively, allowing a stunning 59 goals, the NHL’s highest total in that span. In that wretched stretch, Anderson has registered a 1-4-0 mark with a 4.60 goals-against average and an .852 save percentage in five outings.
Notes: Thompson scored his 43rd goal Tuesday, the highest number through a Buffalo player’s first 70 games of a season since Alexander Mogilny (74) and Pat LaFontaine (46) in 1992-93, according to Sportsnet Stats. Thompson’s goal total is the team’s highest since Thomas Vanek scored 43 in 2006-07. … Winger Jeff Skinner scored his 30th goal Tuesday, giving the Sabres three 30-goal scorers – Thompson and winger Alex Tuch are the others – for the first time since 2006-07, when Vanek, Chris Drury and Jason Pominville hit the mark. … The Sabres had Wednesday off.