As Craig Anderson’s absence neared the one-month mark, many observers wondered when the Buffalo Sabres would address their goaltending.
While Dustin Tokarski has subbed admirably, he had never shouldered such a heavy workload in the NHL until last month. With backup Aaron Dell struggling, the Sabres have been running Tokarski ragged.
The Sabres needed another goalie, and on Thursday, shortly before Tokarski entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, they found one, acquiring Malcolm Subban from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for future considerations.
Of course, with Tokarski unavailable – Sabres coach Don Granato said he has no timetable for a return – the Sabres suddenly had to find a goalie in a hurry.
Granato said the Sabres expect Subban, 27, to join them for today’s practice in Raleigh. Dell, 32, started Thursday’s 7-4 road loss to the Florida Panthers. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who was recalled from the Rochester Americans earlier in the day, backed him up.
Tokarski, 32, is the first Sabres player to be placed in the league’s COVID-19 protocol this season. Naturally, there’s concern he won’t be the last. Granato said everyone on the team has been tested.
“So that’s a real peace of mind when everybody goes through testing,” Granato said on a Zoom call prior to Thursday’s game at FLA Live Arena. “So there’s concern always when you’re in the middle of a pandemic and we are still in the middle of a pandemic. … We’ve been in this thing and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away.”
In Tokarski’s absence, Subban, the 24th overall pick by the Boston Bruins in 2012, will likely receive his first NHL action this season.
“All the reports I’ve heard, I’m excited about him,” said Granato, whose Sabres play a road game Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. “So I don’t know him, I’ve never coached him, but the reports are great. There’s an enthusiasm just within our room and our staff because of him. So I’m looking forward to it.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Subban has registered a 36-31-8 record with a 3.02 goals-against average and an .899 saves percentage in 82 career NHL games with Chicago, Boston and the Vegas Golden Knights.
Subban has compiled a 2-2-1 mark with a 3.38 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage in five outings with the Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s AHL affiliate, this season.
He enjoyed his best NHL campaign in 2017-18, recording a 13-4-2 record with a 2.68 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 22 games with Vegas.
He is in the final season of a two-year, $1.7 million contract. His brother, P.K., is a defenseman with the New Jersey Devils.
Granato said Luukkonen, the Sabres’ top goalie prospect, might’ve played against the Panthers if he hadn’t traveled Thursday. The Finn, 22, arrived in Florida a few hours before the game.
Considering COVID-19 protocol forced the AHL to postpone two Amerks games this week, Granato feels fortunate the Sabres can recall players from their affiliate.
“They’ve gone through, obviously, testing there, so we know UPL’s status was good when he came,” Granato said. “So we have peace of mind in that.”
The Sabres made three lineup changes Thursday, inserting center Casey Mittelstadt, who returned from a 21-game absence (upper body) and winger Mark Jankowski, who signed an NHL contract Sunday. Jankowski made his Sabres debut.
To make room for them, the Sabres scratched Anders Bjork and John Hayden.
Meanwhile, after sitting out one game to rest a nagging injury, defenseman Jacob Bryson replaced Will Butcher.
Granato said Anderson’s status hasn’t changed. He’s still week to week recovering from the upper-body injury he suffered Nov. 2.