BUFFALO – If you dreamed up 10 or 15 goaltending scenarios for the Sabres before the season, rookie Linus Ullmark earning regular duty in November wouldn’t have been one, coach Dan Bylsma said.
But Ullmark, 22, thanks to an injury to starter Robin Lehner and his own impressive play, will start his third straight game tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning inside the First Niagara Center.
Ullmark, having undergone surgery on both hips in April, wasn’t on the ice for development camp in July and didn’t join regular training camp sessions until late.
Still, even early in September, Ullmark wowed the Sabres.
“There was some anticipation of getting into a game because of the way he was practicing,” Bylsma said this morning.
Tonight will be Ullmark’s fourth start in five games. Overall, the Swede is 2-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
The Sabres will make one lineup change tonight, inserting defenseman Mike Weber, a healthy scratch the last two games, for Carlo Colaiacovo, who has an upper-body ailment.
Bylsma said Colaiacovo, who practiced Wednesday, has been dealing with bumps and bruises.
The Sabres have lost six straight games to the Lightning. In their last outing, a 2-1 setback Oct. 17 in Tampa Bay, the Sabres outplayed the Lightning before allowing a late goal.
“We played one of our better games, especially one of our better starts to the games,” Bylsma said. “I felt like we deserved a little bit better fate than we got in that game. We need to go out and get what we deserve tonight. I think we can draw on the success we had against them last time and how we played in that game. I asked the guys, ‘What did the Lightning expect from us?’ I think we’ve shown them how we’re going to play.”
The Lightning, the NHL’s No. 1 offense last season, ranks 20th. Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay is only 6-6-2. Incredibly, the defending Eastern Conference champions haven’t had a lead after the first period this season.
“We haven’t started games very well,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “It’s tough to have a lead when you don’t come out of the gates strong. We have a group in here that should be able to pounce on teams early. For whatever reason, we haven’t done that. We haven’t played consistently all season long to have the record we know we should have.”