Buffalo Sabres: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen deserves to start vs. the Canucks

Often, we have been seeing Buffalo Sabres goaltenders swapping starts, but that should change for Saturday afternoon’s game vs. the Canucks.

Jan 6, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1)
Jan 6, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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The Buffalo Sabres two goaltenders are young and they will have their respective learning experiences, but Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has set himself apart more than once this season. Most recently, he’s done so in his last two games, being the primary reason the Blue and Gold won against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he also came up big in last night’s win vs. the Ottawa Senators

While Luukkonen didn’t snag the quality start last night, it’s hard to blame him for the two goals Claude Giroux scored in the third period. While Luukkonen (like any goaltender) can always step up and make a save to rescue his team from a bad situation, it’s not happening all the time, and bad puck handling in the defensive zone ultimately cost Buffalo. 

It seems like Luukkonen’s 0-5-1 stretch that started on November 30th occurred eons ago, as he’s been 3-0-0 since, boasting a 0.933 save percentage, with 83 saves on 89 shots on goal. Now that the time has come for the “hot hand approach” given the position the Sabres find themselves in, Luukkonen is once again making his case to be that hot hand.

Buffalo Sabres must start Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen on Saturday

The only major downside so far for Luukkonen this season is that he’s been streaky. The 24-year-old started the 2023-24 season well with a 3-1-0 record that included a stretch of 61 saves on 63 shots, before he went 0-2-1 in his next three outings. 

However, he put up a 0.923 save percentage in the Sabres loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 11th. And he followed that up with blocking all 14 shots on goal on November 14th when he relieved Devon Levi in the Sabres loss to the Boston Bruins. 

Luukkonen parlayed those performances into an impeccable three-game stretch that saw him go 3-0-0 with a 0.941 save percentage, and 80 saves on 85 shots. Unfortunately, this was when turbulence struck again, with the young goaltender losing his next five matchups in regulation. He logged just two decent starts in that span - a 0.931 save percentage vs. the Nashville Predators, and a 0.909 outing against the Arizona Coyotes. 

But once again, Luukkonen bounced back, and it’s something that we discussed a week ago that chronicled how well he played in his final two appearances of the calendar year. That set the stage for what we’ve seen on January 6th and last night, and it’s why the Buffalo Sabres need to put their best goaltender at the moment in the crease vs. yet another one of the NHL’s best teams, the Vancouver Canucks.

Perhaps this time, we will see Luukkonen log his fourth win in a row, and set the stage for consistency as the sense of urgency surrounding this team increases. If he can, then it’s yet another reason the Blue and Gold’s season has not ended. 

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(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)