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Sabres goaltenders are taking care of business

Perhaps there is some good news in light of Robin Lehner being the latest member of the Buffalo Sabres sidelined with the flu. After all, it makes Dan Bylsma's job of deciding which goaltender to start a little bit easier.

Backup Anders Nilsson played his best game of the season Tuesday, coming a few minutes short of a shutout in the Sabres 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in KeyBank Center.

Nilsson has started three of the last four games for the Sabres, picking up two wins. His .930 save percentage ranks fifth in the NHL and goes with a 7-3-4 record.

Lehner picked up the 4-3 win against Winnipeg on Saturday here. He also unleashed his spitfire personality at Dustin Byfuglie and was ready to fight the Jets heavyweight in a scuffle after the final horn sounded.

There's passion. There's stopping pucks. There's a backbone to the Sabres defense, which should feature Nilsson starting in Thursday's game in Florida against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Sabres tandem has the sixth-best save percentage in the NHL at .920. To put that in perspective, the last time the Sabres goaltenders finished with a combined save percentage above .920 was the 2009-10 season when Ryan Miller, Patrick Lalime and Jhonas Enroth combined to post a .924 save percentage.

"To have two that are playing well, to have two you can go to on any given night, everyone feels comfortable," defenseman Justin Falk said. "There’s no tension or uneasiness on wondering who’s going to be back there that night. We can approach everything the same and take care of our business because we know whoever is back in the pipes is taking care of theirs."

While taking care of business in the net means stopping pucks, it also means communicating with your defense. There's a minor style difference between the two in that category.

"I would say Lehner is maybe more vocal out of any goalie I’ve ever played with," Falk said. "He’s very into it."

But both have made it easier for the Sabres defense, directing players so that they can see the puck to stop the puck.

"They're both loud back there," defenseman Cody Franson said. "They try to let you know what they're seeing as best they can. You know when a shot's coming in from the point, we try and focus on boxing out but sometimes you get in a situation where you're going to end up crossing their line of sight to do that. They try to be vocal about just letting them see it so sometimes we'll just wait for a half second to focus on rebounds.

"Both our goalies have been real good in that area which has allowed us to let them see pucks better and let them make the save rather than us trying to go out there and block it."

In Tuesday's win, Nilsson faced 40 shots, faltering just once on a late third-period power play goal. While the majority of the shots he faced were clearly seen from a distance, Nilsson had to make several key saves at key times. He also had good game management, covering pucks and getting whistles to keep trouble from brewing around the Sabres' goal.

"I thought yesterday was a significantly better game," Bylsma said of Nilsson's performance against the Flyers. "He was in control. He was solid. He gobbled up pucks. He was very good on his rebound control. We broke down a few times last game and he had to make a couple saves there in the second period with guys coming down the slot. He made big, solid saves for us and gobbled up the rebound and didn’t give up chances. I thought that game, more than any, has been his best at being in control and being a tight goaltender."

Bylsma said that Lehner would not make the road trip, which begins against Tampa Bay Thursday and concludes in Carolina Friday.

That means Linus Ullmark will stay with the Sabres. Named an AHL All-Star with the Rochester Americans, he leads the league in games played with 38.

That volume has been key for his development withing the organization. Ullmark hasn't played this often in his hockey career, in part because of double hip surgery in 2015. But his time in Rochester, sometimes playing three games in three days, has been a calculated part of his maturation process and, frankly, something he's enjoying.

"It's a lot easier to keep a stable performance because you know have to do the same thing over and over again," Ullmark said. "You don't get all those pauses when you have to think about 'OK, how did I do this? Where is my timing?' Those small things, like timing and feeling of the game, gets a lot easier. And well, of course it's a lot more fun to play a lot of games."

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