PITTSBURGH – Carter Hutton expected the eight hours from the Buffalo Sabres' morning skate Thursday to puck drop of the season opener to feel like an eternity.
This wasn't the first season opener for Hutton. The 33-year-old started in goal for the Sabres against Boston in KeyBank Center last October. However, a certain amount of nervousness comes with the first game of the season. Hutton hasn't gone through his typical routine yet and the speed of the game increases from preseason.
"There's a lot of built-up energy, you're really excited but you have to keep it under control and control what you can," Hutton said following the morning skate.
The question now is will he be in goal for the Sabres' home opener Saturday against New Jersey in KeyBank Center. Rather than naming a starting goalie, coach Ralph Krueger told the media that he and his staff will evaluate the position on a game-by-game basis.
"I think with everything right now we’re really keeping the picture small and going one game at a time," Krueger said. "Let’s start with Carter Hutton today and go on tomorrow. That’s really the way we’re thinking."
Krueger and General Manager Jason Botterill have said repeatedly that the Sabres will need both goalies to succeed, especially with the chaotic schedule. Their season opener is the first of 12 games during a 23-day stretch in October. Additionally, teams around the National Hockey League are no longer using one goalie for the bulk of a season.
Hutton played a career-high 50 games last season, while Linus Ullmark was in net for 37 games. Comparatively, Ryan Miller played 76 of 82 games for the Sabres in 2007-08.
Hutton is ultra-competitive. He went undrafted and waited parts of six NHL seasons to become a full-time starter. Hutton finally received that opportunity last season after signing a three-year contract with the Sabres. However, Hutton has spoken several times of a team needing two goalies.
"He's a heckuva goalie and we have options," Hutton said of Ullmark. "I'm a big believer you've got to have two guys to have success in this league. The days of Martin Brodeur playing 70 have come and gone. Certainly, I'm excited to get the first one but before we know it we're going to be weeks in and the games will be coming at you every which way. For me and Linus, it's a matter of supporting each other no matter who is in net."
Though Krueger would not discuss his long-term goalie plans, he did provide details about how the Sabres would come to their decision following each game. Goaltending coach Mike Bales, who guided the Penguins' goalies to two Stanley Cups, will make his recommendation. The entire staff will debate the topic before ultimately coming to a consensus.
Both goalie should benefit from Krueger's defensive-zone structure, which will use more zone principles. Krueger wants his forwards and defensemen to take fewer risks offensively in order to prevent the high-danger scoring chances that plagued the Sabres last season.
"We're going to give something up at times to take something away and that will be big for us," Hutton said. "Personally, at times, I thought I tried to do too much at times and my game slipped. Now I'm back to doing my job and not trying to have the pressure feeling you have to steal the game every night. We want to have a certain predictability to our game."
Evan Rodrigues will have to prove himself to another coach in Buffalo. The 26-year-old forward was a surprising scratch for the season opener, joining defenseman John Gilmour in the press box at PPG Paints Arena.
Rodrigues earned a prominent role under former coach Phil Housley last season, scoring nine goals among 29 points in a career-high 74 games. However, Rodrigues was out of the lineup in favor of Kyle Okposo, who skated on the fourth line with Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons.
"It’s always the mix in the end, and the competition here, as I’ve told you all through training camp, has increased," Krueger said of scratching Rodrigues. "Our depth has increased. When you see that level of scratch, you can see that it’s not just words, it’s actions here. It’s a competitive situation. In the end, it was the mix that took him out of it."
Marcus Johansson never expected to be named an alternate captain upon joining the Sabres. The 28-year-old forward simply wanted to make a strong impression on a new coaching staff and expressed excitement in the opportunity to take on a leadership role on a younger team.
Johansson, though, impressed Krueger with his ability to lead by example and knowledge of the Sabres' new systems.
"It’s obviously an honor," Johansson said of being named an alternate captain. "It kind of tells you that you’re doing something right and a good person, I guess. I mean, yeah, it’s cool. But mostly just honored to get that opportunity. I’m really proud of that."
Neither Victor Olofsson nor Henri Jokiharju was able to practice with the Sabres on Wednesday. Both were assigned to Rochester for salary cap reasons. They were recalled Thursday morning and were in the lineup against the Penguins.
Olofsson, who began the season on the Sabres' top line, did not say much when asked about the unusual circumstances, but he beamed when asked about his first season opener in the National Hockey League. Curtis Lazar, Jean-Sebastien Dea and Lawrence Pilut were assigned to the Amerks on Thursday.
"It was fine," Olofsson said of Wednesday. "We just made sure we're ready for today, which we are. I feel great. I'm really excited to be here and it's finally time for the season to start. This is what we've been working towards all summer."
Crosby on Krueger
Penguins center Sidney Crosby captained Team Canada against Krueger's Team Europe in the championship series of the World Cup of Hockey in 2016. Canada swept Europe in the three-game series with victories of 3-1 and 2-1 in Toronto's Air Canada Center.
Crosby was familiar with the way Krueger wants his teams to play but acknowledged there is an element of surprise since the Penguins have spent training camp focusing on their own systems.
"I think every team is trying to play fast and they're no different," Crosby said. "They want to be disciplined defensively. Everybody's approach is pretty similar. There's always a few adjustments you want to make with not seeing him for a while. Every team is so worried about themselves, playing their game to create an identity, the focus is on your group but you have to watch for their subtle adjustments."
Murray signs with Amerks
Brett Murray, a fourth-round draft pick of the Sabres in 2016, signed a one-year, American Hockey League contract with Rochester. Murray, a 21-year-old forward, scored 41 goals for Youngstown of the United States Hockey League last season. He chose to not attend Miami (Ohio) and participated in the Sabres' Prospects Challenge last month.
Meanwhile, forward Kyle Olson, a forward whose performance at the Prospects Challenge earned him an invitation to Sabres training camp, was released from his tryout with the Amerks. Olson is expected to return to the Western Hockey League's Tri-City Americans.