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COMMENTARY

Sabres gave Carter Hutton no help, and he didn't help himself

Mike Harrington

Carter Hutton hasn't won a game since October. Didn't win one Saturday either. He wasn't bad in the Sabres' sickly loss to the Vancouver Canucks. He wasn't good either. He was just there.

There were major problems in front of him during what coach Ralph Krueger aptly deemed a "very painful unacceptable finish".

Giving up four goals at home in the third period when a 2-2 game is up for grabs certainly merits that description. The 6-3 loss sent the Sabres' season deeper down the drain. Hutton still has no answers and he's far from alone.

"I don't know what to tell you. You guys watch it. I watch it. It's frustrating," said an understandably grim Hutton. "I just try to battle. I don't know what to say. I think on all accounts everyone is frustrated."

Hutton gave up three goals on six shots to open the third and he was most disturbed by J.T. Miller's goal at 1:17, when the Vancouver winger took advantage of a fat rebound.

Most of the other plays were odd-man rushes and flat-out breakdowns in front of him. Goalies have to deal with those obviously and make saves to bail out their team. Right now, the mistakes are just too grievous and Hutton is simply unable to overcome them.

"It's just little things," said defenseman Brandon Montour. "The first one was a rebound right off the start of the period there. A breakdown, odd-man rush, 2-on-1, 3-on-1 back door. Those things can't happen."

But they keep happening. Especially with Hutton in net. It's weird how the Sabres have regular brainlocks when he's in the crease.

Hutton is 0-7-4 in his last 11 starts, the Sabres' longest winless streak since Jhonas Enroth went 16 in row in 2011-2012 and the 2013 lockout season. In that span, Hutton has a 4.27 goals-against average and .866 save percentage -- the worst figures in the NHL among goalies who have played at least 10 games since Oct. 24.

"He's been battling. He's obviously been riding with Linus playing a lot of games here but he's a good professional," Montour said. "He know what it's all about and he's a positive guy whenever you see him. You want to play in front of him when he's in there."

Since Hutton won his last game, there are 25 goalies in the NHL who entered Saturday with at least 10 wins in that time. St. Louis' Jordan Binnington has won 18. A dozen guys have won at least 13.

GM Jason Botterill signed Hutton, a guy with no major record as a starter, to a three-year, $8.25 million contract in the summer of 2018 to become the team's starter. And now the Sabres are stuck.

Largely because of the bye week and All-Star break, the Sabres don't have another back to back until Feb. 6-7 (Detroit at home, New York Rangers on the road). Hard to imagine Hutton gets used again until then. Barring injury, Linus Ullmark can play the next eight games since they would overlap the bye week and All-Star break.

Krueger played a fair hunch Saturday. Hutton has been much better at home (4-2-2 vs. 2-5-2) and Ullmark has been lights-out in his career against Detroit, where the Sabres will be Sunday. Didn't work.

"This definitely doesn't go on Carter Hutton," Krueger said. "This is a team loss and needs to be dealt with that way."

Fair enough. The Sabres simply couldn't handle the Canucks in their own zone most of the game, particuarly in the third period.

Montour scored Buffalo's first goal and Rasmus Dahlin had two assists but neither seemed in control defensively. Jake McCabe, coming off an upper-body injury, was limited to 16 minutes and that was probably a good thing. Lawrence Pilut was on the ice for two goals and was ultra-soft on numerous possessions. He needs to be in the Detroit press box Sunday or maybe even back in Rochester.

This defense corps has simply endured too much shuffling. Six men in, seven men in, injuries, now the trade of Marco Scandella. Other than McCabe with Rasmus Ristolainen, there's rarely any consistent partners.

"It's obviously difficult but you make do with what you have here,' Montour said. "You play 7, you play 6, you get traded, it is what it is. We're all NHL players. You can play on the left side, you can play on the right side. D partners may switch."

Montour was being very diplomatic. This isn't working. Krueger needs to pick six D and stick with them. Zach Bogosian wants a trade, so he shouldn't play anymore. Put Colin Miller on the ice. Forget about Pilut for now.

Krueger admitted cohesion is an issue he's going to ponder on the flight to Detroit and again in the morning. He needs to create some. That might help the defense.

No idea what can help Hutton. Mike Bales is supposed to be a savant as a goalie coach but like Botterill, his Stanley Cup rings from Pittsburgh aren't proving to be worth a whole lot here.

Hutton looked sharp early, when the Canucks had the game's first eight shots. He actually stopped the first 11 he faced -- then let in five goals on the next 23 shots.

"I felt fine. It's just frustrating. It's a pretty good hockey team up front," Hutton said. "When they get the buzz like that in the offensive zone and move pucks around you it's hard to compete. We battled but obviously it's not good enough."

Nope. it's not. Right now, nothing is for the Sabres.

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