Craig Anderson has played 20 games this season. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Craig Anderson offers Sabres intriguing goaltending option down the stretch

BUFFALO – For five months, the Sabres have carefully managed goalie Craig Anderson’s workload, giving the NHL’s oldest player ample time to recover following his outings.

Only once this season has Anderson, 41, started back-to-back games. The Sabres have essentially limited his appearances to one per week.

Coach Don Granato often attributes Anderson’s success at such an advanced age – as of Saturday afternoon, his .920 save percentage ranked sixth among goalies with at least 20 games played – to the rest they’ve consistently offered him.

But what might they do in the wake of his brilliant 49-save performance in Friday’s 3-1 road win over the Florida Panthers? Could they ramp up his workload?

Remember, Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen are also on the roster. Granato has been utilizing each goalie, and all three just earned wins over a seven-day stretch.

In becoming the oldest netminder (41 years, 279 days) to register 49 or more saves in a single game, Anderson helped the Sabres jump into the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot.

“Outstanding,” Granato told reporters in Florida of Anderson’s splendid effort. “He makes it look easy as well. Reads plays, reads shooters. Obviously, he knows how we play and knows the pre-scout, how they’re going to play and what’s going to come at him. And you can see the calm as a result. He was calm through the entire thing and extremely efficient in his saves and his postures. Big night for him.”

Granato said on Monday the Sabres would begin choosing their starting netminder differently. They’re going to ride the hot hand, and right now, that’s Anderson.

In Tuesday’s ugly 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the veteran looked sharp in relief of Luukkonen, stopping 17 of the 18 shots he faced over the final 46 minutes.

While Anderson likely won’t start this afternoon’s contest against the Washington Capitals at KeyBank Center, the Sabres also play Tuesday, Thursday and next Saturday. They play 25 games over the season’s final 47 days.

Could they, for example, start him Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets and again Saturday afternoon versus the Tampa Bay Lightning?

Friday marked the first time since Anderson made his back-to-back starts on Nov. 12 and 15 that he played the majority of two straight games on three days or less of rest. He also played 25 minutes of relief after Comrie was injured Nov. 16.

Comrie, 27, has started just three of the last 18 games, compiling a 3-0-0 record with a 3.31 goals-against average and an .881 save percentage in that span. He made 36 saves in Thursday’s 6-5 overtime win in Tampa Bay.

Overall, the save percentage he has compiled in 15 games this season, .882, is 38 points lower than Anderson’s.

Luukkonen, 23, has struggled behind a porous defense this month, compiling a 1-3-0 record with a 5.35 goals-against average and an .856 save percentage in four starts. He did, however, stop 33 shots in last Saturday’s 4-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish rookie emerged as the Sabres’ top goalie after Comrie went down, and he has played a team-high 24 games.

Granato said following Friday’s game the Sabres plan to evaluate their goaltending situation every day.

“One thing in this league, you can’t jump ahead too far,” he said. “You’ve got new information every day and you’ve got to stay in the moment.”

Anderson said having three goalies on the roster has created “a healthy competition to make our team better.”

“We’re working together as best we can in the practice and we’re staying extra, doing extra before, we’re doing extra after to make sure we’re ready so that we can make sure we can have moments like this because the team’s counting on all three of us,” he told reporters Friday. “It’s going to take all three of us down the stretch here to finish out the season. By one guy playing well it’s going to push the other guys to play well.”

Notes: Anderson was originally credited with 53 saves Friday before the NHL’s statistical auditing process dropped his total to 49. … Sabres winger Jeff Skinner’s second goal Friday was his 600th NHL point. … With three assists Friday, center Tage Thompson became the Sabres’ first player to have 11 outings of three or more points since Pat LaFontaine in 1995-96. … The Sabres had Saturday off.

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