Sabres goalie Carter Hutton has been sent home for further testing on a lower-body injury, leaving the slumping team with no experienced presence in net during a season that’s gone from bad to worse for Buffalo.
Interim coach Don Granato on Tuesday said Dustin Tokarski will make his first NHL start in more than five years Wednesday, when Buffalo opens a two-game series at the Pittsburgh Penguins. Minor league journeyman Michael Houser, who was only signed on Friday, will serve as the backup.
And as if the last-place Sabres haven’t endured enough bad news, Granato said the team — already minus captain Jack Eichel, out indefinitely with an upper-body injury — could be missing two more forwards.
Granato said Tobias Rieder could miss a second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury, and Kyle Okposo isn’t expected to be available until after Buffalo completes its four-game road trip at Boston on Sunday. Okposo has already missed one game and didn’t travel with the team because of an upper-body injury.
Buffalo is 0-12-2 in its past 14 games, matching the longest streak in franchise history set midway through the 2014-15 season, when the Sabres went 0-14. The 14-game skids represent the longest in the NHL since the Phoenix Coyotes went 0-8-4 with three ties from Feb. 21 to March 21, 2004.
Hutton’s absence is the most concerning after he was hurt in the opening minutes of a 5-3 loss at the New York Rangers on Monday night. Hutton made two saves before he was injured when New York’s Julien Gauthier slid hard into him while being pushed by Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Hutton needed assistance walking once he left the ice.
Buffalo is already minus starting goalie Linus Ullmark, who missed his 13th game since sustaining a lower-body injury. Ullmark practiced with the team Tuesday for the first time since being injured, but there is no clear timetable for his return.
“Certainly, we want him back as soon as we can, and I think Linus wants to be back as soon as we can, but the information’s not there yet to know the date on that,” Granato said.
Ullmark said he felt all right, and added he’ll have a better idea regarding his return after another practice.
Tokarski finished the game at New York making 33 saves in his first NHL appearance since Oct. 28, 2016, when he was with Anaheim. His last start came on Dec. 21, 2015, when he was with Montreal.
The 28-year-old Houser has yet to play at the NHL level since turning pro in 2012-13.
With Ullmark not available, Buffalo is expected to bring up a goalie from the minors to fill Houser’s spot on the taxi squad. NHL rules require teams to have three goalies available this season.
The Sabres, at 6-20-4, sit last in the overall league standings and are in jeopardy of extending their playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th season. Granato took over last week after coach Ralph Krueger was fired. Buffalo’s season was also paused for two weeks in early February after nine players and Krueger were placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.