Carter Hutton repeated a term that Jack Eichel used to describe Linus Ullmark back in December, when he was just beginning to take the reigns as a No. 1 goalie.
"He's been the backbone so far," Hutton said. "Now I have to get in there and just play my game."
The Sabres expect to be without Ullmark for three to four weeks as he recovers from a lower-body injury sustained during the team's loss to Ottawa on Tuesday. The 26-year-old had started 18 of the team's past 20 games and already earned a career-high 16 wins.
In Ullmark's absence, the Sabres are set to lean on Hutton and rookie Jonas Johansson, who was recalled from Rochester prior to practice on Wednesday. Krueger did not announce a starter for their home game against Montreal on Thursday.
"We're disappointed for him and us, because he was really building a good season here," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "Again, we have an excellent staff that's going to bring him back as quick as possible. He's in their hands now, he's in that camp.
"We have Jonas here who's earned this opportunity to join us. He's had a terrific season so far in Rochester, an all-star there, which everybody knows. Now we have to work with Hutts and Johansson and do the best we can with this group going forward."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger
Naturally, an increase in playing time for Ullmark has meant limited action for Hutton. He's made three starts since the beginning December and is winless since starting the season 6-0-0, though Krueger explained that there are more factors at play than just individual performance.
"We know that Carter can step up here," he said. "He had an excellent start of the season, some struggles of late. But it was more also the team performing differently in those games. There were some overtimes in there that didn't tip his way, so we're cheering for him as loud as anybody to get back on track result-wise.
"But he's always worked hard and has had some good weeks now with [assistant coach] Mike Bales. They've done a lot of extra work, and we feel Carter is ready to be the guy to step in here and carry the ball."
Hutton has vocally supported Ullmark along the way while keeping a day-to-day approach behind the scenes. He's seen it all since completing his long climb to the NHL at age 27, from backing up Pekka Rinne in Nashville, to splitting the net in St. Louis and, last year, earning the No. 1 spot in Buffalo.
"If I don't play well JJ is going to play," Hutton said. "There's no security in what we do. This is the NHL. In that sense, I'm just going to go out there and do what I do. It's hard to really look at the big picture in that sense. I'm not looking down the road or whatever. You just try to stay in the moment.
"It's just hockey. I leave the rink I've got a family I go to. It's just hockey. I come here, I do my job, I do my best, I put a lot of work into it, but at the end of the day, it's just hockey. I do what I do and put enough work to try to be as successful as possible."
Johansson, meanwhile, is looking to complete his own ascension to hockey's highest level. He spent three years in Sweden after being drafted in the third round in 2014, then spent the past two years playing primarily with the Sabres' ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati.
He's split the net with veteran Andrew Hammond in Rochester this season, his first full AHL campaign. His 13-3-3 record and .925 save percentage earned him a spot in the AHL All-Star Game in Ontario, California this past weekend.
"I just think it's excellent to take a look at him right now with the record he has," Krueger said. "… But it's, more than anything, psychologically how he's grown and developed thus far this season. It's a good opportunity to get to know each other."
Video: JONAS JOHANSSON
Johansson described the 48 hours leading up to his first NHL practice as "intense." He traveled from California to Rochester on Tuesday, then got the call from Amerks coach Chris Taylor telling him he was headed to Buffalo. He made the trip up the I-90 Wednesday morning.
First, he made a phone call to his parents back in Sweden that was a long time in the making.
"That's something you only had in your dreams before, now it became a reality," he said. "So that was a really nice moment."
Rasmus Ristolainen took a maintenance day but will be ready to play Thursday. Here's how the team lined up in his absence:
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 67 Michael Frolik
13 Jimmy Vesey - 27 Curtis Lazar - 21 Kyle Okposo
43 Conor Sheary - 22 Johan Larsson - 71 Evan Rodrigues
4 Zach Bogosian, 10 Henri Jokiharju, 19 Jake McCabe, 24 Lawrence Pilut, 26 Rasmus Dahlin, 33 Colin Miller, 62 Brandon Montour
40 Carter Hutton
34 Jonas Johansson