BUFFALO – It can be easy to feel sorry for Carter Hutton these days.
Three months ago, Hutton ranked among the NHL’s best goalies. His superb netminding – he began the campaign 6-0-0 – helped buoy the Sabres’ terrific October.
But Hutton’s season started falling apart months ago. Incredibly, he hasn’t won a game since Oct. 22.
Saturday afternoon’s 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks dropped Hutton’s record to 0-7-4 in his last 11 starts.
In the past month and a half, Hutton has often served as a spare part, playing just three out of the last 18 contests. He backed up Linus Ullmark eight straight games before Saturday.
Given Hutton’s awful record, you wonder how many weeks it will be before Sabres coach Ralph Krueger might play him again. Hutton just waited 23 days between starts.
A wretched stretch in which the Sabres have lost nine of 12 games (3-8-1) has kicked them to fifth place in the Atlantic Division, essentially dousing their playoff hopes. They trail the Toronto Maple Leafs by nine points for the final playoff spot.
If the Sabres want to get back in the chase, they must go on a run. They can’t turn to a goalie who hasn’t won a game in nearly three months.
During his 11-game losing streak, Hutton has compiled some awful numbers: a 4.27 goals-against average and an .866 save percentage.
So there’s a strong chance Hutton will only play when the Sabres have back-to-back games. That’s probably the biggest reason he started Saturday. The Sabres play a road game this afternoon against the Detroit Red Wings.
In his first action since Dec. 19, Hutton looked sharp early, making eight saves in the opening five minutes before the crowd of 18,509 inside KeyBank Center.
“I felt fine,” Hutton said. “It’s just frustrating, you know what I mean? (Vancouver is) a pretty good hockey team up front. I think sometimes it’s like when they get to buzz like that in the offensive zone and move pucks around, stuff like that, it’s hard to compete. We battled, but obviously it’s just not good enough.”
Like some of his recent outings, Hutton performed well enough to win. Of course, the Sabres, as the third period illustrated, often don’t provide him enough support.
“It’s tough to see what he’s going through,” Sabres winger Sam Reinhart said. “But a lot of it’s on us.”
After starting the final period tied at 2, the Sabres imploded, allowing three goals in the opening 7:38 before a late empty-netter sealed it.
“This definitely doesn’t go on Carter Hutton,” Krueger said. “This is a team loss and needs to be dealt with that way. Carter was making some good saves.”
Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour said: “We need those points, and 2-2 going into the third, we’ve got to bear down and find ways to win those games.”
None of the goals Hutton allowed Saturday would be considered soft. Still, his inability to keep the Sabres in games by making big saves and bailing out his teammates has contributed to his stunning in-season decline.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Hutton said of Saturday’s outing. “You guys watch it, I watch it. It’s frustrating. Maybe the third one I was a little slow getting over.”
On that goal 1:17 into the third period, Vancouver winger J.T. Miller buried his own rebound at the bottom of the right circle. The play started when Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe turned the puck over deep in his own zone.
The Sabres, however, answered back, tying the game at 3:28 when winger Zemgus Girgensons tipped linemate Kyle Okposo’s shot past goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Then winger Brock Boeser’s second goal of the afternoon at 6:24 put the Canucks up for good.
“It was a hell of a hockey game until 14 minutes to go, and we turned it into a very painful, unacceptable finish,” Krueger said. “We know how they play, and we respect their skill and the way they push the game offensively. They like to play an open game and somewhere through all that we ended up trying to play more their game than our own and gave up on it. It’s very frustrating right now for all of us.”