The way Linus Ullmark sees it, it's better to have the slump now. If a team has wire-to-wire success, it's just setting itself up for failure in the playoffs. Every team needs a regular-season hiccup.
The Rochester Americans are having theirs.
The Amerks have won just three of their last 15 games, falling to 25-13-14 after holding a 23-8-7 record Jan. 12. Rochester is still comfortably in an American Hockey League playoff spot, but it is definitely having a hiccup.
"You could say that," Ullmark said Monday before serving as the Buffalo Sabres' backup against Washington. "If you go through a full season with just winning games, you're maybe not saving it for the playoffs. Hopefully, we can turn the board around and get rolling."
Injuries and call-ups have hurt the Amerks. Leading scorer C.J. Smith is out for a month, joining defenseman Barry Goers and forward Garret Ross on the sidelines. Defenseman Brendan Guhle returned recently. Forward Nick Baptiste and blue-liner Casey Nelson are in Buffalo.
"It's to key players that really pulled our team to a good position," Ullmark said in KeyBank Center. "It's not just on the ice. It's off the ice, too, and on the bench."
The slump has hit Ullmark in the numbers and coincides with his highlight of the year. He stopped 44 of 45 shots in his only start for the Sabres on Jan. 11, earning First Star in a 3-1 victory over Columbus. He went back down as the Sabres took their bye week.
Since returning to the Amerks, he's gone 1-4-5 with a .915 save percentage. He's 18-9-8 with a .924 save percentage in 36 appearances this season.
He says there wasn't a letdown in returning to Rochester.
"There's a bye week. There's nothing to say about that," Ullmark said. "We had games in the minors, so I was happy to go down there. Unfortunately, I didn't really win those games that I wanted to win, but I think my game will turn around, too, with the team now.
"I can't be frustrated for not having the chance to play here. Every time I get the call-up, I'm very fortunate and very happy about it."
Buffalo summoned Ullmark because Robin Lehner is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, then sent the goalie back to Rochester after the game.
Lehner complained he couldn't move his leg following the morning skate last Tuesday against Tampa Bay. He never missed a game or practice until skipping Sunday's optional workout.
"It's just one of those things that's built up, and he's just taking a day off," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "It's just a day-to-day thing, but we thought it was important he should rest."
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Housley spent time with Washington coach Barry Trotz, his first NHL boss.
"I congratulated him on his 1,500th game," Housley said. "I believe I may not see that."
As the Sabres' coach chuckled, it was clear his sense of humor remains in what's been a very difficult opening season behind the bench. Trotz says things will get better for Housley and the Sabres.
"When you come into a new organization, a new sort of mindset in what you're doing, it takes awhile for it to get implemented and established," Trotz said. "There's a lot of factors – everything from injuries to your leadership core, all that – but I think he's got a real good plan going forward long term for Sabres fans and the team, and he'll do a real good job."
Housley was making a name for himself coaching international competitions and high school when Trotz called in 2013. The then-Nashville coach was looking for help coaching his young defense corps, and Trotz picked Housley for the job.
Housley admired Trotz's game preparation.
"He was really solid in that direction," Housley said. "You look at the teams he had early on in his coaching career, they were a bunch of hard workers, but he got them to play hard and play a good system."
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Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges returned after sitting out Saturday's loss to Los Angeles. In the last 38 games, Gorges has played 16 times and sat 22.
"It's difficult," Housley said of the 33-year-old's plight. "You don't know where you fit into the plans. Obviously, when we're not winning games there's going to be changes made. I think he's been doing a terrific job of trying to be a good teammate and support his teammates in this time, but I think that's the way he's got to approach it."