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Ullmark to make season debut in Columbus

Sabres expecting tightly contested meeting with 'hungry' Blue Jackets

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

COLUMBUS - Linus Ullmark has watched patiently as the Sabres battled their way to a 2-0 start. He'll have the chance to help them earn win No. 3. 

Ullmark will make his first start of the season in net when the Sabres visit the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at Nationwide Arena. Coach Ralph Krueger has maintained that the team feels confident in both of its goaltenders given their work during the preseason. 

"There's no question that he's worked hard also in his mind to understand what the National Hockey League needs for somebody with his size, how he can use that," Krueger said. 

"With [assistant coach] Mike Bales working with him, you can see that his positional play has really improved practice to practice. We're excited to see him in action tonight."

Video: PREGAME: Krueger

The team's defensive play through two games has certainly made life easier on the goalies as well. The Sabres have out-chanced opponents 19-6 in high-danger situations at 5-on-5, according to Hutton stopped 46 of the 49 shots he faced in the two victories.

That success stems partially from the Sabres' ability to extend possession in the offensive zone, thus limiting their time defending, and also from their commitment to defending away from the puck. Krueger credited his players with preemptively taking away second chances around the net. 

"It's been great," Ullmark said. "We're just in the beginning of our process here of building our culture with Ralph in front. We've done a good job so far, but we don't take anything for granted. What we've been doing is putting a lot of hard work and grit to our game and just doing the right things."

The goalies are involved when it comes to "playing connected" in the defensive zone, too. Ullmark's position might allow him to see something a defender cannot, and it's his job to communicate it. 

"I try to help our Ds and our forwards out to get them to where I want them to be," he explained. "If there's a guy that's wide open that we might have lost, it's my job because I have my face up ice, I can see a little easier. It's just one of those things that helps everybody communicate in a better way."

Krueger has said all along that the Sabres will utilize both their goaltenders, which is particularly important given their condensed scheduled. They are currently amid a stretch of 13 games in 26 days to open the season.  

The goalies themselves recognize that need as well. 

"We're both competitive guys," Ullmark said. "We want to play every game. Obviously, the guy that plays the best should be playing. That's how I feel. It's all about wins in this league and to get to the playoffs. But we have each other's backs every day. 

"No matter who's going out there, I think his going to do his most, and the guy who's backing up is going to help push him to success."


The best offense … 

Krueger said Sunday that he felt the Sabres' abundance of shots (they have outshot opponents 77-49 so far) has come as a result of their defensive commitment. Marco Scandella explained after the morning skate how hard work on defense has contributed at the other end of the rinkg.

"I feel like we're working hard back to recover pucks and we're giving ourselves more time once we get the puck to have looks going up the ice," Scandella said. "So, I feel like all that hard work is paying off for the reason that our transition game is being fed by that hard work and giving us more time offensively."

It's led to a huge discrepancy in shot attempts at even strength. The Sabres have held a 60-percent share of shot attempts so far this season (99-66), trailing only the Nashville Predators.


Scouting the Blue Jackets

"Patience" has been the buzz word for a Blue Jackets team coming off two straight losses to open their season, including a 7-2 defeat in Pittsburgh on Saturday. 

The Blue Jackets lost forwards Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene - their leading scorers in last year's playoffs - to free agency. With that firepower absent, coach John Tortorella has stressed playing the patient, heavy game that Columbus was known for long before acquiring either Panarin or Duchene.

 "I know some guys in that locker room, they have a lot of pride," Scandella said. "We're going to have to match that or exceed it, actually. We're coming on the road; we have to play our road game. We're feeling good about ourselves right now, but we can't let off the gas. We have to understand what allowed us to have success in the first two games and we have to bring the same intensity."

Krueger reiterated his own comments from Sunday, saying he expects a tightly contested game.

"They play hard, they play physical here," he said. "We need to match that physicality. It's going to be a great game. I said it [Sunday], I'm expecting a one-goal game here tonight. So, it's going to be a battle right through. 

"Patience for them might mean on the defensive side too, not being overly aggressive and being smart aggressive. Again, for us, it's about playing our game, concentrating on our strengths, and bringing those to the table right through the game."

Joonas Korpisalo will start in net for the Blue Jackets. They will be without forward Josh Anderson, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Anderson ranked fourth on the team with 47 points last season.


Tune in

Pregame coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will have the call, with puck drop set for 7. You can also listen live on WGR 550.

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