Following Carter Hutton's 23-save victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said the win itself was secondary to the work the goalie had put in to prepare for it.
Hutton had only made three starts since the beginning of December prior to Linus Ullmark's injury, which occurred during the third period against Ottawa last Tuesday. He's stopped 49 of 52 shots in two starts since, good for a .942 save percentage.
The results, Krueger said, are a testament Hutton's attitude and work with assistant coach Mike Bales.
"A lot of time talking about solutions," Bales said when asked about the process. "Looking at different things on ice, different stuff from technical, tactical [standpoints[ and a few off-ice things. ... It was definitely a plan and a process in place to help Carter get back to where he wanted to be."
Video: Monday's Practice Report
Hutton opened the season with a 6-0-0 record, including back-to-back shutouts (one of which set a franchise record), but a road loss to the New York Rangers on Oct. 24 began a stretch of 12 starts without a win for the goaltender. The run coincided with strong play from Ullmark, who took on the No. 1 role.
There were other factors at play outside of Hutton's individual performance. He had multiple 40-save performances decided in overtime. Team defense is always an influence on a goalie's statistics, which Krueger has noted.
All that said, Hutton spoke repeatedly about controlling what he could control and supporting Ullmark to the best of his ability. That wasn't just talk.
"He was a really good teammate, first and foremost," Bales said. "He's a really good person and obviously he'd like to be in the net, but both goalies understand there's one net and when they're not in the net, they're cheering the other guy on. I know sometimes for people it's hard to believe that you're sitting there on the bench and you're hoping your partner does well, but we talk about focusing on stuff he can control.
"If you're sitting there worrying about how the other guy's playing or hoping he has a bad game, I mean, that's just negative energy and that doesn't help you out any. Just going in and controlling what you can control, which is showing up every day and being a good teammate, working hard, and treating your practices like they're games so when your chance does come, you're prepared and you're ready to perform."
Video: MTL@BUF: Hutton stamps out Suzuki's chance
Staying prepared in the meantime meant, as Hutton put it, "chipping away" at different areas every day to continue building his game. Work for a goalie includes video sessions and pre- and post-practice drills. Even during in-practice drills, a goaltender might have a particular skill he's working on.
Bales thought Hutton looked particularly strong in the two practices when the team returned from the All-Star break. He stepped in for Ullmark during the team's first game back, stopping all four of the shots he faced.
"When Carter went in, I knew he was going to do the job for us," Bales said.
Johansson staying ready
While Hutton has assumed the starting job, backup duties have belonged to 24-year-old Jonas Johansson. The Sabres have back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday, at home against Detroit and in New York against the Rangers, signaling a potential opportunity for the rookie to make his NHL debut.
Bales spoke about the process of readying Johansson, who was an All-Star in the AHL this season, for that possibility.
"He has some confidence coming up here," he said. "I think it's just working with him to maintain that confidence. JJ works so hard in practice and he tries to stay really sharp with that.
"I think the main thing is just let them go out and play and be themselves, try not to tinker it too much and just let them get comfortable a little bit with the NHL and the speed and the releases and how are things a little bit different. But you're obviously not trying to stress him out too much about anything, just let him go out and be himself and there's a reason he's under contract with the Sabres because everybody believes he can play. He's here and he's looked really good in practice."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Ralph Krueger
Rasmus Dahlin and Johan Larsson stayed off the ice for maintenance days. Brandon Montour did participate in practice after being a late scratch for the game against Columbus.
The status of all three players for Tuesday's home game against the Colorado Avalanche will be determined in the morning, Krueger said.