Alex Tuch, Buffalo Sabres, Casey Mittelstadt, Column, Devon Levi, News and Rumors, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

Sabres News & Rumors: Levi, Luukkonen, Mittelstadt & Tuch

The Buffalo Sabres had exactly the weekend the team hoped for and needed. On Friday, they hung in there against a difficult New York Rangers team, pulling out a 3-2 win in overtime. They then followed that up with a 6-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second half of a tough back-to-back.

As a result, the Sabres accomplished two things. First, they now stand at 81 points on the season. That’s a milestone the team hasn’t reached since the 2015-16 season. Second, the win over the Flyers has brought them within striking distance of the playoff race. Given the Pittsburgh Penguins’ loss to the Boston Bruins, the Sabres now sit four points back of the Florida Panthers with two games in hand.

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Gaining 81 points is not a significant milestone in itself, but it represents a positive step for a developing team like the Sabres. It’s an indication of the progress this team has made over the past year. 

While the Sabres’ playoff chances have improved, the downside is that it’s pretty clear they won’t be drafting Connor Bedard this year.

Item One: Goalie Devon Levi Has Impressive NHL Debut

The Sabres’ goalie play was strong on the weekend. On Friday, Devon Levi made his NHL debut. He impressed, stopping 31 shots in the 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers. Although the Rangers poured on 20 shots during the third period, Levi held his own.

The Sabres skaters gave the 21-year-old rookie a 2-0 lead, but the Rangers came back hard to force overtime. Veteran Jeff Skinner ultimately scored the game-winning goal, making Levi a winner in his first NHL start.

Related: Sabres’ Goaltending Group Needs To Be Fronted by Devon Levi

It’s a small sample size, but Levi’s NHL debut did not disappoint. It will be good to see him in his second start. Is he now the team’s best option in the net?

Item Two: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen Follows Suit Against the Flyers

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made his own mark on Saturday. He had a strong game in goal, making an impressive 39 saves in a 6-3 victory against the Flyers. He’s now won two games in a row, although he has given up seven goals in those games.

Item Three: Casey Mittelstadt Leads the Sabres on the Weekend

Casey Mittelstadt had a productive weekend for the Sabres, recording a total of five assists in two games. On Friday, he registered two assists in the team’s 3-2 overtime win against the Rangers. He followed up on Saturday by delivering three assists in a 6-3 victory over the Flyers.

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Mittelstadt has been on fire lately, with seven assists in a four-game point streak. He’s shown up just when the team needed him. He’s been handling first-line minutes while Tage Thompson is nursing an upper-body injury.

Related: Sabres News & Rumors: Levi, Anderson, Thompson & Rousek

This has been the best season of Mittelstadt’s career. He now has scored 10 goals and added 39 assists (for 49 points) in 75 games. Leveraging his current hot streak and throwing in a little bit of luck, he could reach the 50-point mark this year.

Item Four: Alex Tuch Leads Sabres on Saturday with Hat Trick

Alex Tuch had a great game Saturday. He scored his second NHL career hat trick in the Sabres’ win. His first goal came early in the second period, putting the Sabres up 2-1. He followed it up with a second goal late in that same period.

Alex Tuch Buffalo Sabres
Alex Tuch, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Tuch scored his hat trick goal shorthanded late in the third period. That put the icing on the cake for the Sabres. He now has 35 goals and 37 assists (for 72 points) in 67 games this season.

Item Five: Henri Jokiharju Scores His First Goal of the Season

Henri Jokiharju, a 23-year-old right-shot defenseman from Finland, ended his long scoring drought. On Saturday night, he scored his first goal of the season and registered his first point in almost six weeks.

Related: Sabres Getting Strong but Underrated Season From Cozens

Jokiharju had gone 18 games without recording a point. He last registered an assist on Feb. 24. In 53 games this season, he now has a goal and nine assists.

What’s Next for the Sabres?

As noted, the win against the Flyers kept the Sabres four points behind the Panthers. The Panthers are also winning recently, and have moved into the second wild card spot after their recent win. 

With the playoffs within reach, I have to wonder who will play in the Sabres’ net. Will Luukkonen see significant playing time over the next week? Or, will Levi get another game because he was so strong in his debut? 

Ukko Pekka Luukkonen Buffalo Sabres
Ukko Pekka Luukkonen, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Thus far on the season, Craig Anderson has arguably been the Sabres’ best option in goal. He’s likely to get one final start before he retires. I look forward to that game.

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