Buffalo’s Jordan Greenway (12) and his teammates celebrate his first Tuesday. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres dismantle Kings as Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen joins elite company with fourth shutout

BUFFALO – Perhaps the most of emphatic of the Sabres’ 23 victories this disappointing season served as another reminder of just how dynamically they’re capable of performing.

On Tuesday, the Sabres annihilated the reeling Los Angeles Kings before an excited crowd of 13,292 fans in KeyBank Center, pouncing on them early and never letting up.

They imposed their will on the Kings, embarrassing them all night.

The Sabres immediately set a tone, buzzing around Kings goalie David Rittich throughout the first two minutes. Winger JJ Peterka’s team-leading 19th goal made it 1-0 at 4:25, the first time they opened the scoring since Jan. 18.

“Getting an early lead was the most important thing,” said Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who made 33 saves to record his fourth shutout this season.

When winger Jordan Greenway intercepted Drew Doughty’s pass and scored the first of his two goals at 16:58, the Sabres equaled their goal total from two losses last week.

“We did a lot of good things tonight,” Greenway said. “We played at a great pace that I just don’t think that they could keep up with. It paid off for us early and, yeah, I think if we stick to that game and commit to playing it every night, we can beat some good teams.”

The offensive outburst almost overshadowed another dazzling outing by Luukkonen, who’s enjoying the greatest run by a Sabres goalie in a long time. The Finn has recorded the most shutouts by a Buffalo netminder since Ryan Miller had six in 2011-12.

In the final minute, the Sabres went all out to help Luukkonen, blocking a few shots.

“I’ve been talking about how well defensively we’ve been playing and how much we want it,” Luukkonen said. “I think that kind of proves it. It means a lot to me.

“I always say it’s not me who gets the shutout, it’s the team. I think they did most of the work in the end for me, so it feels awesome.”

Sabres coach Don Granato said: “There’s no question they … finished the right way, the way they started.”

So, why can’t the Sabres put together more start-to-finish efforts like Tuesday’s? A team many believed would end its 12-year playoff drought is 10 points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot.

“There’s major components that are mystery, but I think the pattern is the outer situation of urgency, we respond to that,” Granato said. “So how can we create our own urgency before we’re pressed to it by virtue of a poor performance or two? Can we create that urgency for ourselves? That’s been our challenge … since the start of the year.

“But once the outside dynamics push that urgency, that locker room tends to respond pretty consistently well.”

In scoring at least seven goals for the second time this year – they had nine Dec. 21 against the Toronto Maple Leafs – the Sabres showcased some nice balance.

Greenway recorded three points. Peterka, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and winger Alex Tuch each had one goal and two points. Captain Kyle Okposo scored a power-play goal 19:25 into the game, effectively sealing the win before the first period ended.

Rookie winger Zach Benson ended his 19-game goal drought in style in the second period, spinning around in front of Rittich and beating him as he fell to the ice.

“He got a stick on my heels and when I was falling down, I just tried to elevate it and put it on net,” Benson said of his fifth goal. “I’m fortunate that it hit the back of the cage there.”

As the night progressed, the same fans who often become restless and boo reveled in the Sabres’ success, counting up the number of goals and demanding more. As the final seconds ticked down, they roared in approval.

“We don’t need to score seven every night, but I feel like it’s good to get one of those nights, too,” Luukkonen said. “I think we played hard both ways today. So I think from a confidence standpoint for the guys, it’s really good.”

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