BUFFALO – Rookie Devon Levi took a backseat to Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen again Thursday, backing up the new No. 1 goalie during the Sabres’ 3-0 win against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Levi, 22, has watched four straight contests, his last outing coming Jan. 9. Other than the time he spent recovering from a lower-body injury in October, it’s his longest stretch between outings this season (counting two games he played in the minors).
After Levi returned from the AHL last month, he mostly split time with Luukkonen. But Sabres coach Don Granato has been riding the hot hand, so the Finn, who began Thursday’s contest 4-1-0 in his last five games, has emerged as the starter.
“Upie’s playing well, so all the credit to him,” Levi said Thursday morning in KeyBank Center. “I’m just staying ready. I have a lot of practice time, which is great. You’re not playing as much, but you’re practicing more. So it’s just different. Not better, not worse; just different.”
The Sabres, of course, know Levi needs game action, so before Luukkonen’s second straight shutout, he was possibly in line to start Saturday afternoon, when they complete their six-game home stand against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Levi made 23 saves Oct. 17 in a 3-2 win over the Lightning in Buffalo.
Levi, whose strong work habits have been well-documented, has used his time over the last week and a half to do extra work on and off the ice with assistant coach Mike Bales and let his body recover.
“It’s opportunity to learn in other ways,” said Levi, who has played 21 total games this season. “I’m not playing, so how else can I get better? Watching film, watching game, doing some extra work at the rink. It’s a good opportunity to take care of my body, let my body get refreshed, let my mind get refreshed.
“Since I don’t have the stress of games, catching up on sleep. Just banking sleep so that when I do get put in, if there’s a time down the stretch where I’m playing a lot, then I’m ready for that. I’m just preparing for what’s to come.”
Granato called Levi “a hungry rink rat.”
“Whether he’s playing or not, it doesn’t change his routine or his day,” he said. “… He attacks the day wanting more information, more reps, more challenges. So, yeah, he hasn’t played in a bit, but he’s certainly not going to be rusty by any means, and he’s going to be even better because he attacks it. He wants guys to shoot pucks on him, he wants guys to challenge him. So it’s probably a good break for him.”
By Saturday, the Sabres could have all of their injured players back in the lineup.
Center Dylan Cozens, winger Jeff Skinner and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, all of whom are day to day with upper-body injuries, missed Thursday’s game.
Granato said Cozens suffered his injury in the third period of Monday afternoon’s 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks.
He said Skinner, out the last four games, had a strong rehab skate Thursday morning and will return to practice today.
Samuelsson hasn’t played since entering concussion protocol in last Saturday afternoon’s 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
“Each day real positive direction, so he is progressing very well,” Granato said.
With Cozens out Thursday, winger Victor Olofsson played after sitting out five straight games.
The Sabres recalled Jacob Bryson from Rochester prior to the game so they had a spare defenseman.
Bryson, 26, began the season with the Sabres, playing three games before they waived him. He has played nine games for the Amerks, recording one assist.
Blackhawks rookie center Connor Bedard, the first overall pick in 2023, missed his sixth game with a broken jaw.