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'He's just so patient' | How Ullmark's poise translates to shootouts

The goaltender detailed his approach after Monday's practice

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Linus Ullmark was quick to pump the breaks on the significance of his shootout numbers, impressive as they may be. 

Sure, Ullmark's career .868 save percentage in the competition ranks first all-time among goalies with at least 10 shootouts played. But Ullmark is more intrigued by the number of great shooters he has yet to face on various teams around the NHL.  

"So, I don't know if I'll do as well against them," Ullmark said after practice Monday. "That's the beauty of going into the shootout. You never really know what to expect out of the opponents. So, that's what I find kind of intriguing and interesting as well."

Well, one thing is certain: Few shooters will be tougher than the one he stopped Saturday. 

New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin has scored 16 goals on 27 shootout attempts during his career, a 61.5-percent success rate. That number ranks second all-time among shooters with at least 10 career attempts, behind Petteri Nummelin. 

Panarin had beaten Ullmark twice during regulation when the shootout began Saturday. The forward skated wide to the left and then threw a rapid series of dekes and shoulder fakes as he drifted slowly toward the net. Ullmark stayed patient, remaining square with each deke until he ultimately turned away a point-blank wrist shot with his glove. 

Video: Condensed Game: Rangers @ Sabres

Victor Olofsson had confidence in his goaltender watching from the Buffalo bench. Olofsson has gone head-to-head with Ullmark in many a post-practice shootout, first as teammates with MODO in the Swedish Hockey League and now with the Sabres. 

In a competition that presents so many possibilities for the player with the puck on his stick, Ullmark flips the script and keeps shooters guessing with his calm, patient approach. 

"I think he's probably one of the best goalies in the world," Olofsson said. "… He's just so patient. It's really hard to figure him out. We feel really confident with him in the penalty shots for sure."

Ullmark detailed his approach at length on Monday.

"When you play against these type of players - you know, Panarin, you've got Auston Matthews, you've got Patrick Kane, or even Connor McDavid, for certain - these guys have tremendous hands so as soon as you make the first move, you're toast, that's it. 

"But at the same time, you have to be able to read them to a certain level that you know that the shot or the deke is going to come. For me, [Panarin] kept on dangling for a long time and then he puts his stick a little further off the right and he shot it, and I read off of it." 

Of course, calm and patience have become Ullmark's M.O. as he's developed into a No. 1 goaltender since making his NHL debut six seasons ago. He detailed the message written in Swedish written on his blocker last season, which translated to "breathe and enjoy" - a reminder to live in the moment. 

Ullmark took on a starter's workload for the first time last season, admittedly adjusting to the demands on the fly. He has filled the role dependably this season, ranking 10th among goaltenders with a .921 save percentage (minimum 15 games played). His mark of 7.92 goals saved above average at 5-on-5 ranks sixth in the NHL, while his .875 high-danger save percentage ranks eighth (minimum 100 minutes, according to NaturalStatTrick.com). 

"When you start playing more and more games, you start to build up a foundation of knowledge that you use to your advantage and that just makes it easier for every game that goes by," Ullmark said. "You have a little bit more knowledge for what you should do to feel the best of your capabilities that day. 

"It takes a certain amount of time and, for me, this is my sixth year over here and it's still a work in progress, for sure."

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