Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen looks for the puck Thursday between Ryan Johnson (33) and Reese Johnson (52). ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen posts another shutout win, Sabres stay hot: ‘Playing with mojo right now’

BUFFALO – Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s stellar goaltending is just one part of the Sabres’ improved defense.

Right now, Luukkonen, 24, is the NHL’s hottest goalie, having posted back-to-back shutouts after making 19 saves in Thursday’s 3-0 win over the hapless Chicago Blackhawks.

The Finn’s current shutout streak of 157:55 is the longest by a Sabres netminder since Ryan Miller blanked opponents for 161:35 from Nov. 27 to Dec. 7, 2010. Only five goalies in franchise history have longer shutout stretches.

Luukkonen’s current six-game run in which he has compiled a 5-1-0 record with a 1.17 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage is the best stretch by a Sabres goalie in a long time.

“Kind of just finding the consistency in my play,” he said of his recent stretch. “Not getting too high, not getting too low, and just worrying about everything a shift at a time. I don’t think it’s anything … crazy.”

In addition to his own maturation, his scorching stretch in which he has grabbed the No. 1 job has been aided by his teammates’ improved defense around him.

“We kind of showed how tight we can play,” Luukkonen said. “… It’s not about me, it’s about the team and the shutout, it doesn’t happen if they don’t block shots, box out. … We played a good game tonight and it showed on the scoreboard.”

The Sabres, the same team that allowed nine goals to the Columbus Blue Jackets one month ago, have given up just one score in the last three games.

“We’re playing with mojo right now,” Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said. “We’re not afraid to make plays, and we back up each other if someone messes up or something. We’re playing a good team game right now. We’re calm with the puck and make the right plays.”

Luukkonen, who made 28 saves in Monday afternoon’s 3-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks, is the first Sabres goalie to post consecutive shutouts since Carter Hutton from Oct. 14 to Oct. 19, 2019.

These days, Luukkonen said when the Sabres “see an opportunity, we just dive into the play.”

“So kind of having a little bit more patience defensively, too,” he said following his fourth straight start. “I think that shows. Everybody is on the same page.”

Coach Don Granato said the Sabres have recently been limiting turnovers and “playing with a little more confidence and poise.”

“And yes, they’re defending better, I think, in unison where it’s easier for the goaltender,” he said. “There’s shots coming at him more consistent. And you see a goaltender can be more confident because he’s reading the situation through how our team is defending. It’s a clearer picture for him.”

Despite outshooting Chicago 13-4 in the opening period, Luukkonen was at his best early, stopping a few odd-man rushes before an announced crowd of 15,465 fans in KeyBank Center.

“He was calm in the net,” Dahlin said. “He takes the first one and we take the rebound. That creates a lot of calm on the team. I’m very happy for him. He’s playing great now right now and he earns it.”

Winger Zemgus Girgensons scored 12:27 into the second period, tipping in defenseman Ryan Johnson’s shot. Winger JJ Peterka made it 2-0 2:57 into the third period, beating goalie Arvid Soderblom from below the goal line.

“We started off well,” Girgensons said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to stick to it. I thought we played the right way, kept getting chances, and eventually one (went) in.”

Luukkonen said: “We kind of kept grinding on it and kind of just kept the momentum on ourselves rather than just trying to score the goals too much.”

Dahlin’s power-play goal from the point – Phillipp Kurashev was given a five-minute major for boarding defenseman Erik Johnson – capped the scoring at 6:06.

“When the puck doesn’t go in, you have to keep it simple,” Dahlin said. “My goal was a lucky bounce, too. Right now, we don’t do the pretty goals, but we take it. When we do the simple stuff, the pretty stuff is going to come.”

Johnson left the game and “is going to be sore,” according to Granato, who said the Sabres will know more today about his status.

The Sabres are 6-3-0 in their last nine games, including 3-2-0 during their home stand.

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