If there had been one of the main weaknesses in the Sabres slow start to the regular season, goaltending can be circled as the primary reason. However it may be a strength for the future of the team.
After Robin Lehner went down in the season opener, Chad Johnson and Linus Ullmark had to shoulder the load. Both had some hot streaks but the inconsistencies kept the Sabres from moving up the ladder in the Eastern Conference. Since Lehner has returned, he has been a pleasant surprise.
Last night's 4-0 win was the first shutout of Lehner's career as a Sabre. Lehner finished the night with 38 saves and showed what a crazed yet passionate teammate he is after he dropped the gloves with Blue Jacket's defenseman Jack Johnson after Zach Bogosian was hit from behind. This style of play was exactly what Tim Murray wanted to bring to Buffalo when he traded a first round pick for the 23 year old goaltender.
In 12 starts this season, Lehner has a record of 4-4-1, a .932 save percentage, and a 2.30 goals against average.
While Robin Lehner has shown in limited action that he can be the face of the Sabres goaltending in the future, Linus Ullmark also proved he is worthy of receiving a shot.
Ullmark started 19 games in Buffalo. Although often the Swedish net minder was out of position and at times it seemed he wasn't ready for the speed of the NHL, he also showed incredible vision and the ability to take over a game when the skaters in front were struggling. A .915 save percentage for a 22 year old that never played professional hockey in North America is pretty good. At 6'3 and 198 pounds, Ullmark can take up a lot of space but also has incredible quickness for his size.
In the near future, Ullmark and Lehner will combine for what could be the best young goalie duo in the NHL (Only competing with Frederick Andersen and John Gibson in Anaheim).
What about the other prospects though? Cal Petersen, Jonas Johansson, and Jason Kasdorf have all improved this season.
Petersen has been the MVP for the #5 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In 31 starts, Petersen is 18-6 with a 2.08 GAA and a .931 save percentage.
He has been the hottest goaltender in the NCAA since November.
At 6'1, Petersen isn't as big as the likes of Ullmark (6'3), Lehner (6'5) and Johansson (6'4), but his speed at the glove and pad area may be better than any prospect.
Jason Kasdorf has been a pleasant surprise for the Sabres. Earlier in the season, Kasdorf helped RPI upset #1 ranked Boston College. His performance at development camp in the summer opened a lot of eyes.
Both Petersen and Kasdorf have been impressive, but nobody has the upside that Jonas Johansson does. At 6'4, he fits the exact mold of what Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma want in a goaltender.
Johansson showed at development camp that it is nearly impossible to beat him low. His vision and positioning make him extremely valuable to Buffalo. I fully expect Johansson to push Lehner and Ullmark for a roster spot within the next two seasons.
In 39 starts for Almtuna IS in Sweden, Johansson is 22-16, with a 2.35 GAA and a .915 save percentage.
The best part about having a deep pool of goalie prospects is the ability to move some of them for compensation.
Like Tim Murray said before last season's NHL draft, some of these prospects will stick and some will fall.
However if the Sabres are lucky enough that all or most of the goalies pan out, Murray will then be able to improve the roster in other areas.
What team doesn't want a young, tall goaltender that could potentially start in the NHL?