ROCHESTER – One start down, at least one to go for goalie Devon Levi. After making 16 saves in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss, the rookie is scheduled to play one of the Americans’ two weekend road games before the AHL breaks for its All-Star Classic.
Now, will Levi, 22, stay with the Amerks beyond this week?
The Buffalo Sabres, who sent Levi to the minors for extra work during their bye week and the NHL All-Star break, will reconvene for practice Sunday afternoon.
“We’re just taking it right now week by week,” coach Seth Appert said of Levi’s latest assignment to the AHL.
Levi looked sharp in limited action Wednesday, shaking off a fluky short-handed goal by the Syracuse Crunch – “Off the post, off my back and then off my stick,” he said – and settling in.
“He was rock solid,” Appert said in Blue Cross Arena. “Looked in control, looked calm. (He) didn’t have a massive workload because I thought we defended really well, we defended hard.”
As goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen solidified his grip on Buffalo’s No. 1 job during January– the Finn posted a 1.52 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage – Levi received sporadic action. Last month, he started just three of the Sabres’ 11 games.
The Sabres, of course, want Levi to play regularly. When Luukkonen emerged as their starter in late November, they sent him to Rochester for the first time. The assignment felt like it might last weeks or even months.
But Luukkonen got sick the next week, and Levi played just two games before the Sabres summoned him. On Jan. 20, they sent him to the Amerks to play one game and quickly recalled him.
Levi responded well to his first two stints in Rochester. When he returned to Buffalo in early December, he compiled a 3-0-1 record with a 1.71 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage in his next four outings. After his trip last month, he overcame a sluggish opening 10 minutes Jan. 24 in Los Angeles and made 37 saves in a 5-3 win over the Kings.
“Every time has proven different, different challenges that have made me better,” an upbeat Levi said of his trips to minors. “It’s a great opportunity to get more practice time, to work on my game a little bit more without the big lights. It’s nice to be here and keep playing, get some games, get some more practices.
“I had a little bit of time off when Upie was playing really well. To be here right now during the NHL All-Star break is pretty advantageous. They want me to use this resource and I’m gonna soak as much as I can out of it, however long that may be.”
Unless Luukkonen falters, the Sabres will likely keep utilizing him as much as possible. They don’t have another set of back-to-back games until March 2 and 3, so they could conceivably increase his workload a bit.
If the Sabres keep Levi in the AHL – right now, they also have goalie Eric Comrie on the NHL roster – he would embrace the opportunity.
“I don’t mind,” Levi said of staying in Rochester. “I’ll do what I’m told. I’ll play the game of hockey because I love it. So, regardless of where, I think my focus is just where my feet are.”
Appert, whose Amerks play road games tonight and Saturday afternoon against the Laval Rocket, said Levi is “fully immersed in being down here.”
“Spends a lot of time at the rink, puts a lot of time in after practice,” he said. “He’s a rink rat, so he likes the environment here. We got a lot of guys that are rink rats.”
Naturally, Levi, who has played 20 games for the Sabres this season, has noticed differences between the NHL and AHL.
“Defensively, we play a different structure here than we do in Buffalo, so there’s different plays that develop and other teams might not have as much talent as an NHL player,” he said. “So there’s a little bit more of, kind of, broken plays, unexpected plays, just kind of hoping for good bounces. I think that’s one of the main differences.
“Just the timing also, the speed of shots are a little bit different. In the NHL, I feel like guys choose their battles more on when to skate fast, and here it’s a lot of run and gun.”
With Rochester, Levi has registered a 2-2-0 mark with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in four games.