The short-term fate of the Buffalo Sabres now partially rests on the shoulders of Carter Hutton.
Hutton, the Sabres’ 35-year-old goalie, will be tasked with holding down the starting job after the team received news that Linus Ullmark will miss at least a month with a lower-body injury, a development that coach Ralph Krueger called a “heavy hit.”
Hutton’s performance wasn’t the Sabres’ problem Saturday in KeyBank Center.
With Jack Eichel out of the lineup because of a lower-body injury, the Sabres struggled to create quality scoring chances and Shayne Gostisbehere’s second-period goal provided the Philadelphia Flyers with enough cushion in a 3-0 win over Buffalo.
The Sabres, now 6-9-3, remain last in the East Division and were thoroughly outplayed by the Flyers (10-4-3).
Ullmark’s injury occurred in the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey on Thursday night, when Ullmark slid to his left to make a highlight-reel glove save on Devils center Nico Hischier. Ullmark stayed in the game for the remainder of the first period before he was replaced by Hutton at the intermission.
Ullmark, a 27-year-old amid the final season of his contract, posted a .944 save percentage in his past four games and again solidified himself as the Sabres’ starter in net. Buffalo has 17 games scheduled in March.
“I think he’s been our best player all year," Hutton said of Ullmark. "He’s been a big-time difference maker. It’s frustrating. A guy I’ve been with for three years, you see him kind of come into his own and he’s worked hard on and off the rink. … But for Linus, the future’s bright, for sure.”
Hutton stopped 36 of 39 shots Saturday against the Flyers, including a pad save on a Claude Giroux one-timer from the slot in the second period. His first goal against, another shot from the slot by Sean Couturier, went off a teammate and in. Philadelphia pushed its lead to 2-0 when Gostisbehere received the puck during a 2-on-1 rush and uncorked a shot that went under Hutton’s glove.
Scott Laughton also scored on a breakaway late in the second period. This was the third time this season the Sabres were shut out, including the second against Flyers backup goalie Brian Elliott.
Early deficit: The trend of allowing the first goal continued with Couturier giving the Flyers at 1-0 lead at 14:22 into the first period. Philadelphia defenseman Travis Sanheim beat Eric Staal to a loose puck along the left wall, skated into the circle to spread out the Sabres’ defensive-zone coverage and passed to Couturier in the slot.
Couturier’s shot went off Brandon Montour’s glove and over Hutton’s shoulder.
Ugly statistic: The Sabres have scored the first goal in only seven of 18 games this season. Entering Saturday, Buffalo had a 2-7-1 when its opponent scored first. The Flyers, on the other hand, had a 6-1-2 record when scoring first.
Slow start: The Sabres had six shots on goal in the first period, none of high quality. Taylor Hall had one power-play shot on goal from the perimeter and Cody Eakin received the puck in the slot without an open lane.
Buffalo spent much of the period in its own end and without the puck, as the Sabres won only 32 percent of their faceoffs.
More of the same: The Sabres had only 14 shots on goal through two periods. Their play away from the puck was worse. Gostisbehere scored on a 2-on-1 at 14:33 into the second period when Rasmus Dahlin was caught pinching. Laughton’s breakaway occurred when Rasmus Ristolainen pinched, and Oskar Lindblom sent a perfect outlet pass through the neutral zone.
Returns: The Flyers had four players return to the lineup after a stay on the Covid protocol list: Laughton, Lindblom, Jakub Voracek and Justin Braun.
Jeff Skinner, Tobias Rieder and Rasmus Ristolainen returned to the Sabres’ lineup.
Scratches: Winger Tage Thompson and defenseman Matt Irwin were healthy scratches for Buffalo. Thompson had three shots on goal Thursday after replacing Eichel in the lineup, and Irwin had played in nine of the previous 11 games.
Roster move: Prior to puck drop Saturday, the Sabres assigned forward Rasmus Asplund to the taxi squad and elevated goalie Jonas Johansson to the active roster.
Milestone: Lazar appeared in his 300th career NHL game, 54 of which have been with the Sabres across the past two seasons. The 26-year-old played most of the 2018-19 season with the Calgary Flames’ top minor-league affiliate.
Letters: With Eichel and Jake McCabe (knee) out, Ristolainen and Reinhart served as alternate captains with winger Kyle Okposo.
Next: The Sabres host the Flyers on Sunday with puck drop scheduled for 3 p.m., Eastern. It’s the fourth of eight meetings between the two teams this season.