THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Once the Buffalo Sabres assured Patrick Lalime he’d get his fair share of playing time behind starter Ryan Miller, the free-agent goaltender couldn’t wait to sign with the team on Tuesday.
"That was the one thing we had in conversation, and I was happy to hear that I’ll get some games in, too," Lalime said by telephone from his home, shortly after signing a two-year, US$2-million contract with Buffalo on the first day of NHL free agency. "Of course I know what I’m getting myself into. And I just want to help the team to contribute."
If that means being a backup, that’s OK with Lalime, who spent the past two years in Chicago playing behind Nikolai Khabibulin.
"I know Ryan’s a very good goaltender. And I’m really looking forward to working with him," said Lalime, who is best known for his four-year stint as the Ottawa Senators’ starter earlier this decade.
The Sabres entered free agency seeking a proven goaltender after deciding not to re-sign backup Jocelyn Thibault. Both Sabres management and Miller acknowledged he was overworked after appearing in a franchise single-season record 76 games last season.
General manager Darcy Regier is confident the Sabres found the right fit in Lalime, a nine-year NHL veteran, who proved last year he’s capable of being a solid backup.
"Everywhere we went to try to get some insight into not only him and his game, but him as a person, was extremely positive," Regier said. "This move was important so that we could have a backup that would be able to give Ryan the necessary relief."
Lalime, who turns 34 on Monday, went 16-12-2 with a 2.82 goals-against average and one shutout in 32 appearances last season. He enjoyed a particularly strong second-half run when Khabibulin struggled.
Lalime went 13-7-1 over the final three months to keep the Blackhawks in playoff contention. Chicago finished in a tie for ninth with Edmonton, three points out of the playoffs.
The performance provided Lalime a boost in confidence after injuries limited his playing time since Ottawa traded him to St. Louis in 2005.
."Yeah, there have been ups and downs. But it’s great the way things went in Chicago," Lalime said. "I’m really happy about being healthy. And as you get older, you mature, you know a little bit more about the game, the way you handle situations. I’m looking forward to help the Sabres win."
Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick in the 1993 draft, Lalime played one season with the Penguins, 1996-97, when he went 14-0-2 to set the NHL record for longest unbeaten streak by a goalie to start his career.
The Penguins traded him to Anaheim in 1998, and Lalime was then traded to Ottawa, where he finally landed a starting job in 2000-01, his second season with the Senators.
He had his best season in 2002-03, going 39-20-7. He went 11-7 in the playoffs and helped the Senators reach the Eastern Conference finals.
Lalime has a career record of 191-148-32-11 with a 2.53 goals-against average and 35 shutouts.