ROCHESTER – Having recorded four shutouts in his last 10 starts, Andrew Hammond might be the American Hockey League’s best goalie right now.
Hammond, 31, has compiled a 7-2-1 record with a 1.40 goals-against and a .947 save percentage since Nov. 1 with the Americans.
“As far as consistency in my game, I think it’s about as good as I ever felt,” Hammond said recently.
Considering the dynamic rookie season he enjoyed with the Ottawa Senators in 2014-15 – he closed it by compiling a stunning 20-1-2 record – Hammond’s words hold meaning.
“I think about my game, I’m as confident as I was then,” said Hammond, who signed a one-year, one-way contract with the Buffalo Sabres on July 1. “It’s a different level, too, but at the same time, I feel like the goaltender I was then I’m getting back to. I feel very good about that.”
Hammond, of course, is best remembered for backstopping the Senators to an unlikely playoff berth. For three months, the phenom nicknamed “The Hamburglar” was the NHL’s hottest goalie.
But Hammond, 31, has endured some tough seasons in the past five years, battling injuries and bouncing around.
The Bowling Green product has played only 37 NHL games since his breakout campaign, his last appearance coming with the Colorado Avalanche in the 2018 playoffs.
Action, even in the minors, has often been sporadic. Over a three-year stretch, he played just 26 AHL games.
By early 2017-18, the Senators buried Hammond down the AHL depth chart with Belleville as he waited for a trade.
“We had four goalies at one point there, and obviously they want to develop younger guys and get them their games, so he wasn’t getting the games that he needed,” said Amerks winger Tyler Randell, Hammond’s teammate in Belleville.
The 6-foot-2, 223-pound Hammond started getting on track in 2018-19, playing 33 contests with the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s affiliate. Despite staying in the minors all season for the first time, he was buoyed by the stability of remaining in one place and being injury-free.
“Right now, I definitely feel more confident than ever about how I’m playing and just knowing what I do to be successful,” he said. “Last year, I got a chance to play again regularly. This year, I’m just building off that.”
Hammond has developed a rhythm in Rochester that he hasn’t felt in a long time. Overall, he has played 16 games, compiling a 10-3-2 mark with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage.
He’s on pace to play 45 games, the most since he appeared in 48 contests between Ottawa and the Binghamton Senators in 2014-15.
In Hammond and prospect Jonas Johansson, the Amerks possess arguably the league’s best goaltending tandem.
“They’re feeding off each other, the internal competition is really good,” Amerks coach Chris Taylor said. “One does well, the other one’s doing really well. It’s just great.”
Not surprisingly, Hammond has evolved this season, focusing more on his own game than what’s happening around him.
“I just think this year, maybe more than others, I’m not worrying about the team around me as much,” he said. “I’m just worrying about my job and understanding at the end of the day, my job’s just to stop the puck. Whether it’s a breakdown or a routine save, it’s my job to make those.”
Most games, Hammond usually makes routine saves. The Amerks, having allowed only 62 goals in 26 games, showcase the league’s tightest defense.
Hammond has faced 30 or more shots in a game only three times this season.
“It’s both a blessing and at times it can be a struggle, too, because you’re trying to keep your focus,” said Hammond, who accompanied the Sabres to Sweden last month as their third goalie. “But I think in a lot of ways it’s definitely been great for me because you just really are able to focus on your own game and making sure that you’re there for those routine saves and understanding that there’s going to be breakdowns.”
The Amerks host the Binghamton Devils on Friday and the Utica Comets on Saturday.
Williamsville native Justin Bailey, who spent four years in the Sabres organization, has scored nine goals and 17 points in 29 games with the Comets this season.
The winger hasn’t played in Rochester since the Sabres traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers for Taylor Leier on Jan. 19.