NASHVILLE – Fans in Buffalo and certainly many people around the hockey world have been stunned by the sudden emergence of Anders Lindback as the Sabres’ top goaltender this month.
One of the game’s best goalies, however, isn’t shocked at all.
Nashville Predators standout Pekka Rinne worked with Lindback on a daily basis for two years and told The News Saturday he’s not surprised his former backup has blossomed, once given a chance for a regular role.
“I’m happy for him. He’s a really good guy and a great friend. I believed he can be a great goalie in this league,” Rinne said prior to the Predators’ game against the Buffalo Sabres in Bridgestone Arena. “It’s great he’s finally had a chance to play.”
Rinne did not, however, get the chance to start against his former teammate in the game, which did not conclude in time for this edition. The Sabres went with Matt Hackett in goal, snapping Lindback’s run of five straight starts.
Lindback played 38 games for the Predators over the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons and his numbers were certainly decent. He was 11-5-2, 2.60 and .915 in ’10-11, and was 5-8-0, 2.42, .912 in ’11-12 before moving on to Tampa Bay.
“Everybody needs that opportunity,” Rinne said. “Goalie is such a fragile position. You get a chance, and if everything doesn’t go smooth, it becomes somebody else’s turn. That’s the way it goes. Sometimes you need more time or you need different opportunities. For his sake, I hope he keeps that position and keeps playing well.”
Rinne said he was particularly impressed with Lindback’s 44-save performance in Tuesday’s shootout win in Boston.
“The Boston game was unbelievable. He was so confident,” Rinne said. “It’s really nice that he is able to showcase himself and people can see how good he can be and how good of a goalie he is.”
Rinne said he was particularly impressed with how Lindback took over for him early in ’10-11 when he was out with a knee injury.
“It’s the way he works. It always begins with the work ethic and the way you practice,” Rinne said. “You can look at 4-5 games and it won’t tell too much. It’s your character, your day-in, day-out work and how you prepare. In that sense, I’ve always felt Lindy is a true professional that works hard. That’s how it starts and that’s how you keep it going.”
The 6-foot-5 Rinne and the 6-foot-6 Lindback were similar in style and stature, and Lindback told Buffalo reporters this week he continues to hear encouragement from Rinne as his role with the Sabres grows.
“Each goalie has his own challenges, whether you’re a big guy or a smaller guy or an average size guy,” Rinne said. “There’s always adjustments and things you have to adapt to. Shorter guys need to read shots better and work hard not to give up room. Bigger guys have to make sure there’s no holes and you stay fast on your skates and have quick feet. Lindy is really looking great. I’m happy for him.”
Penn State forward Casey Bailey, who had reportedly been in some negotiations with the Sabres, signed a two-year free agent contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and is expected to immediately join the Leafs’ NHL roster. The Leafs will be in Buffalo to meet the Sabres on April 1.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Bailey, who is from Anchorage, Alaska, had 22 goals and 18 assists in 37 games for Penn State and had several teams interested in his services as a college free agent. The Sabres were presumed to be a prime contender because of the Penn State connections of owner Terry Pegula, whose name is on the Nittany Lions’ home arena.
The Sabres moved Jerry D’Amigo to the No. 3 line with Mikhail Grigorenko and Cody Hodgson and shifted Nicolas Deslauriers to the fourth line with Matt Ellis and Zac Dalpe. D’Amigo left late in the first period after taking a high stick to the side of the face from Nashville’s Craig Smith, which resulted in a double minor. ... Zach Bogosian sat out his fifth straight game with a lower body injury. ... Friday’s loss to New Jersey marked just the sixth time in 71 games this season the Sabres outshot their opponent. The count was 29-27. ... Predators fan Tim Kopra, who flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery and International Space Station, presented Rinne with the No. 35 jersey he took into space on multiple missions during a pregame ceremony.