COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Buffalo Sabres' initial lineup change of the season came Monday night as Linus Ullmark got his first start in goal for the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Nationwide Arena.
"We feel it's a good spot for Linus to come into," coach Ralph Krueger said. "He's worked hard all through camp and we feel confident about that change. There's no question that he's worked hard in his mind to understand what the National Hockey League means for somebody with his size and how he can use that. With (new goalie coach) Mike Bales working with him, you can see his positional play has really improved practice to practice and we're excited to see him in action."
The 6-foot-4-inch Ullmark had a strong preseason, going 1-1 in three games with a 2.24 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. He was at 3.11/.905 in 37 games last season.
"It's not like I've changed my whole game or anything like that," said Ullmark, 26. "It's more that I'm a year older and trying to bring that calmness into the game and just enjoying the moment.
"We're just in the beginning of our process of building our culture with Ralph. We've done a good job so far but we don't take anything for granted. We've been putting a lot of grit and hard work into our game and have just been doing the right things."
Carter Hutton was strong in the season's first two games, stopping 46 of 49 shots. And Hutton made key saves early in both games, one on Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin flying down the slot in Thursday's opener and another on New Jersey's Jesper Boqvist in the first period Saturday in KeyBank Center.
With 12 games in the season's first 23 days, Krueger figures to use both goaltenders a good amount. Ullmark said he and Hutton both prepare to play each game and simply wait for their call.
"We're both competitive guys and we want to play every game," Ullmark said. "Obviously the guy that's playing the best should be playing. That's how I feel. It's all about wins in this league to get to the playoffs but we have each other's backs every day. Whoever is going out there is going to do his utmost and the guy that's backing up is going to push him to success."
Only two games into their season, the Blue Jackets entered Monday's game as a wounded group after losing both games by a combined 11-3 score. The results mirrored what pundits predicted after the team's massive free agent losses of Sergei Bobrovsky (Florida), Artemi Panarin (New York), Matt Duchene (Nashville) and Ryan Dzingel (Carolina).
Center Pierre-Luc Dubois dropped the hammer after Saturday's 7-2 loss in Pittsburgh.
“Every day, we talk about losing 'Bob,' losing 'Bread,' ” Dubois said, using the nicknames of Bobrovsky and Panarin. “We’re a (expletive) good team. We’ve just got to believe in it, you know? I think it’s enough talking about who we lost. It happened. Who cares? We’re a team here. We have good players. I mean, we lose some guys ... everybody loses some guys at some point. We’ve just got to believe in our team, you know?”
The Blue Jackets trailed just, 2-1, through 28 minutes of that game but were in a 5-1 hole by the end of the second period.
"We looked at some clips where the next three shifts after the third goal we give up odd-man rushes because we’re just trying to do way too much to try and get back into it,” coach John Tortorella said here Monday. “And we still have half the game (left). Up until that third goal, we were playing really good hockey, then we lost our composure. Then, in the third period, it just totally got away from us.”
The Blue Jackets entered the season as one of three NHL teams with at least 45 wins the last three seasons, joining Washington and San Jose on that list. Their first-round sweep of Tampa Bay in April, however, was the first playoff series win in the franchise's 18 seasons. Columbus qualified for the postseason just once in its first 12 seasons and that appearance, in 2009 against Detroit, resulted in a first-round sweep.
Former Sabres defenseman Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, 42, is in his first season as an studio analyst on the Blue Jackets' Fox Ohio telecast. He played 27 games with Buffalo over the 1998-99 and 1999-00 seasons before coming to the Blue Jackets in a trade as part the 2000 expansion draft.
Grand-Pierre played 204 games here as an original member of the franchise from 2000-2004 and last played in the NHL with Washington in 2004. He then spent nine seasons overseas, retiring in 2013 after a stint in Sweden.
Ontario Reign goaltender Cal Petersen, the former Sabres prospect who signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings in 2017, was named the AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Sunday.
Petersen won his first two starts of the season while stopping 83 of 85 shots. He posted a 5-0 victory Friday over San Jose while making 41 saves and made 42 saves Saturday in a 3-2 overtime win at Bakersfield.
Petersen was selected by the Sabres in the fifth round of the 2013 draft but signed with Los Angeles in free agency after completing his career at Notre Dame and opting against signing with Buffalo. He went 5-4-1, 2.61/.924 in 11 games last year for Los Angeles. In Ontario, he faced an AHL-high 38.8 shots per game, finishing 13-22-1/4.02/.896.