ANAHEIM - Ralph Krueger has stressed since the start of training camp that the Sabres feel confident with either of their two goalies in net. Never has that been more evident than in their past two wins.
Linus Ullmark got the nod against the Florida Panthers on Friday. He stopped 41 shots, then blanked the Panthers in the shootout to secure a 3-2 victory. It was his second performance of 40-plus saves in as many starts this season.
The Sabres turned to Carter Hutton for their next game, against the Dallas Stars on Monday afternoon. He turned away all 25 of the shots he faced for his first shutout with the organization, staying undefeated through four appearances.
With a condensed schedule resulting from the team's trip to Sweden in November, Krueger has said it's imperative that either goalie is prepared to start on any given day. So far, they have been.
"A lot of it is the fact that they both get to play then they both feel like they have a little bit of a rhythm going," assistant coach Mike Bales, who works with the goaltenders, said. "One guy's not going to sit for too long. So, they always feel game-ready because of that too. It helps a lot.
"You can practice all you want, but when you get into games it feels a little bit different. The traditional, old-school way of doing it where you have one guy play 65 games and the backup would come in and mop up once in a while, wouldn't get that many starts, was tough on backups for rhythm and feeling ready so I think having two guys going all the time helps them be ready when they do play."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger
Hutton and Ullmark have combined to produce a .956 save percentage at 5-on-5, second in the NHL to the Boston Bruins and one spot ahead of Buffalo's next opponent, the Anaheim Ducks.
The duo is working with a new coach in Bales, who joined the team this summer following two seasons as the goaltending coach for the Carolina Hurricanes. He previously served in the same role for the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017.
His title in Buffalo is assistant coach rather than goalie coach, which Krueger said is more than just a name. In addition to selecting the team's order for the shootout - an area in which the Sabres are 2-0 going back to this preseason - Bales offers his perspective on other areas of the team's game from up in the press box.
"Mike is much more than a goalie coach," Krueger said. "… He's up there looking for specific things that we decide before the game and he's relaying them down during the game. Then also in our postgame analysis, he has a different perspective as we had on the bench.
"… Just a very wise, experienced coach. Although everybody has their specialty, he's much more than a goalie coach, for sure."
Though he works on technical aspects of the game with his goaltenders, Ullmark has appreciated Bales' knack for getting to know his goalies as people.
"It's different for every person that you work with and the same thing goes with goalie coaches," Ullmark said. "Some goalie coaches might not have the social skills or the mental skills that some other guys have, and some guys are way better when it comes to the technical part of the game. … Mike kind of brings both these things together in a very easy-to-understand mindset, for me at least."
Ullmark went on to explain that Bales is as concerned with his goalies' mentality as he is their play.
"We're just trying to build on good habits when it comes to coming into the rink, leaving the rink," he said. "I've very open. Hutts is very open. We chat about everything. Sometimes, you don't need to necessarily talk about being a better goalie. It's just being a better person.
"You might have a rough day or whatever. Then it's probably not the best time to start talking technical things. … It might be better to just talk and figure out that part first. Then tomorrow, we can talk about goaltending."
Krueger offers an update on Granato
Assistant coach Don Granato has been away from the team since being hospitalized with severe pneumonia in late September, though it hasn't stopped him from offering his input.
Krueger said he spoke recently with Granato, who has been watching games on his own and providing feedback from a distance.
"Don is doing much better," Krueger said. "We're just taking our time on that. We're being patient. He's attached to us. He's in the coaching room with us in spirit and communicating with us in a very healthy way so we're pleased he's on the right track."
Rochester Americans head coach Chris Taylor continues to serve as an assistant on the Buffalo bench in Granato's absence.
Conor Sheary was back on the ice with the team for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury in Columbus on Oct. 7. Krueger said the forward's status has been upgraded to day-to-day.
"Conor's feeling better," Krueger said. "We'll assess him this afternoon. He's still day-to-day but looking good and back in the group."
Curtis Lazar also skated with the team after being recalled from Rochester on Saturday. He worked in with the forwards, with the lines otherwise unchanged from the Sabres' last three wins:
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 17 Vladimir Sobotka
13 Jimmy Vesey - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 71 Evan Rodrigues
27 Curtis Lazar - 43 Conor Sheary
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 33 Colin Miller
6 Marco Scandella - 10 Henri Jokiharju
58 John Gilmour
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark
With the Sabres set to begin their California road trip in Anaheim on Wednesday, we surveyed the dressing room to find out which player gives off the most Cali vibes.
Spoiler: Almost all of them said Jeff Skinner.
Video: SABRES IN :50