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Carter Hutton extends shutout streak to bail out Sabres in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- Each of the 11 pucks from Carter Hutton's first shutouts in the National Hockey League are stashed somewhere in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

They're keepsakes from the 33-year-old's circuitous journey from undrafted free agent to the Buffalo Sabres. Someday Hutton will have the souvenirs as a reminder of his accomplishments during his career. For now, he's not even sure where they're located. The pucks could be at his offseason home or possibly his father, Jack, is holding on to them.

Hutton will have two more to add to the pile after the latest feat in his storybook career this week. He was in net for his second consecutive shutout Thursday night, stopping 47 shots in the Sabres' 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Staples Center.

That extended Hutton's shutout streak to 128 minutes, 36 seconds -- only 2:15 shy of his career-high -- and broke the franchise record previously held by Chad Johnson (44 saves on Dec. 17, 2015) for most saves during a regular-season shutout.

With the Sabres reeling in the second night of a back-to-back, their veteran goalie helped them end the day sitting atop the NHL standings.

"It’s obviously something that’s a feather in your cap but at the same time it’s just about winning hockey games," Hutton, who improved to 5-0 this season, said afterward. "We found a way to win and that’s all that matters."

Though his 25-save shutout Monday against Dallas was impressive, Hutton appeared to be impenetrable against the Kings (2-5). Casey Mittelstadt scored twice and Conor Sheary added another to spot Hutton a three-goal lead 22:32 into the game. However, the Sabres' play quickly deteriorated in the second period, beginning with a Kings power play at 8:40.

Hutton appeared calm under chaos, stopping a barrage of shots from defenseman Sean Walker and center Jeff Carter during the penalty kill. Perhaps the most impressive sequence of saves occurred a few minutes later, when Carter knifed through the Sabres defense to retrieve the puck and fired a rebound shot on net.

"Within the game, he just lives in a very small, controlled world," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger, who called Hutton's performance "world class," said. "His emotions are flat but intense. You really enjoy having that kind of presence in the room and on the ice."

The Wraparound: Sabres 3, Kings 0

Kings wingers Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Iafallo were each stopped on shots from the slot, and Los Angeles' surging offense appeared to be on the cusp of a breakthrough when it earned a 5-on-3 power play for 1:33 late in the second period.

However, Hutton, with help from Marco Scandella and Vladimir Sobotka, withstood the Kings' push. A Sabres victory seemed inevitable when Hutton managed to get his glove on Tyler Toffoli's shot from below the right faceoff dot at 2:16 into the third period. A similar save occurred three minutes later on Iafallo.

The Sabres were out-shot 47-24 in the game and 19-7 in the third period. The performance was nerve-racking for every person on the Sabres' bench, most notably the other half of the team's goaltending tandem.

"It was both gruesome and very exciting at the same time," Linus Ullmark said with a smirk. "At the end there, when you’re getting to the third period, I know he was buzzing around there making a lot of big saves. I just wanted him to keep it going and have the guys help him out. Very happy for him that he got a double shotsy."

"I think the main thing is he’s just so calm all the time," Mittelstadt added. "No matter what’s going on, the game can be chaos, and you look back and he’s always calm and relaxed. … He stole us that one tonight."

Amid the on-ice celebration once time finally expired in regulation, Rasmus Ristolainen retrieved the puck for Hutton. His league-leading second shutout this season helped them improve to 6-1-1 and five of their wins occurred with Hutton in net. Additionally, Hutton's .953 save percentage and 1.40 goals-against average both led the NHL at the conclusion of games Thursday.

The Sabres' irresponsible plays with the puck and shoddy defensive-zone coverage were reminiscent of last season, when Hutton and Ullmark were subjected to numerous shots from close to the net. Los Angeles had 14 high-danger scoring chances compared to Buffalo's seven. However, of the Kings' 92 shot attempts, 45 were either blocked or missed the net.

There were few rebounds on the pucks that Hutton stopped and the Sabres managed to tighten up their coverage in important moments, particularly the 5-on-3.

"You just keep competing," Hutton said. "You can’t really let your guard down or think you’re unbeatable by any means. They had a lot of chances and stuff. I think for us, the 5-on-3 kill is a big set. In the second there we were kind of getting a little frustrated. We thought we were giving up too much, especially with a three-goal lead we’d like to be a little tighter. But the 5-on-3 happens and it’s a big kill. I don’t really think they had much."

Hutton, who signed with the Sabres as a free agent in July 2018, had a .908 save percentage while playing a career-high 50 games last season. He credits his teammates with his impressive start, particularly their execution of Krueger's defensive-zone structure.

The Sabres are allowing Hutton to track pucks by preventing opponents from screening him. There's no question they have continued to struggle with puck management in the defensive zone. Krueger thought fatigue was partly responsible for the mistakes Thursday and explained how his players were too eager to exit the defensive zone after building a three-goal lead.

Those miscues are going to happen on the second night of a back-to-back, particularly at this point in the season, and Hutton managed to bail them out.

"It was not just one save," Ullmark said of Hutton. "It was a bunch of saves that showed he kind of had it figured out. ... He had good rebound control. He kept the pucks to the outside. There were no real big second chances for them."

Hutton, like his teammates, expressed excitement with the promising start to the season. Yet he also explained that the Sabres can't get "too far ahead" of themselves. Winning games is all that matters, Hutton explained. There's no sense in looking to the future. Or, in the case of his shutout souvenirs, dwelling on the past.

"I think right now we’re just enjoying playing the game, the grind of it," Hutton said. "We’ve got to play in these games. If we want to be a playoff team, if we want to be a winning team, we have to learn how to play in tough situations, tough buildings."

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