When Jhonas Enroth has played well this year, the Buffalo Sabres can’t get him any goals. Now over his last three starts, they’ve scored 10 times for their backup goaltender. He still can’t win.
And even when Enroth gets his team through 60 minutes, he hasn’t been able to seal the deal.
Enroth was burned for his fourth overtime winner of the season Tuesday night as defensman Mike Green took a perfect pass from Alex Ovechkin and scored exactly one minute into OT to give the Washington Capitals a 5-4 win over Buffalo in First Niagara Center.
It was another spotty night for Enroth, who made 30 saves but still fell to 1-10-5 on the season and 0-8-4 in his last 12 decisions. If Ryan Miller wants no part of this franchise’s rebuild, or if the Sabres are determined on trading their longtime starter, it’s hard to imagine them thinking they can push forward with Enroth as their main man in the net.
After all, Miller is playing behind what’s perhaps the NHL’s worst team too. And he’s got 13 wins – including two shootout triumphs against Washington that saw him make 77 of 79 saves.
A crowd of 18,923 hooted at Enroth during the first period but cheered him as his play improved during the game.
But after the disappointing finish, Enroth sat stoically at his locker with his chin cupped in his right hand and his pads still strapped to his legs. When he walked over to meet reporters, he was philosophical about the way he tried to recover from Ovechkin’s two goals in a 53-second span that put Buffalo in a 2-0 hole before the game was five minutes old.
“It’s part of being a goaltender,” Enroth said. “You’ve got to forgot what happens and try to save the next puck all the time.”
Interim coach Ted Nolan wasn’t happy with parts of Enroth’s game but liked how he battled to make several big saves in the final 50 minutes of regulation.
“That’s going to happen in situations like that,” Nolan said of the rough start. “He has to learn if it does happen, he’s got to battle through it and he certainly did for us.”
Still, it’s hard to forget Enroth’s body of work this year. He’s held opponents to two goals or less seven times in his 16 starts. But he’s 0-4 in OT, lost his only shootout and continues to be winless since Oct. 25.
He hasn’t helped himself at times, and the team hasn’t helped him enough at times. Is he feeling snakebit?
“I guess that’s obvious, isn’t it?” Enroth snapped. “It’s a good mix of both ways there.”
The big-picture elements from this one were a mixed bag for the Sabres.
They scored four goals in regulation for just the fifth time all season. And they have 24 goals in the last eight games – but are just 1-4-3 in that stretch.
Playing the second half of a back-to-back, the Sabres outshot Washington, 13-5, and controlled play much of the third period. Cody Hodgson got the lone goal, an unassisted tally at 6:48 that was his second of the game and made the score 4-4. Christian Ehrhoff and Phil Varone also scored for the Sabres, with Varone’s second-period goal forging a 3-3 tie and marking his first in the NHL.
Conversely, their defensive game was atrocious at times. Ehrhoff’s blatant giveaway led to the second Washington goal, and there were dropped coverages, especially in the slot, all night.
And the Sabres are likely to hear yet again from the NHL Department of Player Safety. That’s because defenseman Mike Weber drilled Nicklas Backstrom with what looked like a gratuitous elbow to the head as the Washington player was heading for his bench in the final minute of regulation.
On the winning goal, the Sabres turned the puck over at the Washington line and the Caps burst away. Martin Erat left a nifty drop pass to Ovechkin coming down the left wing and Weber cheated over to Ovechkin to try to cut off more of his shooting lane.
That left Green open and Ovechkin threaded a perfect pass to the streaking Washington defenseman, who beat Tyler Ennis down the ice. Green made no mistake, firing the puck past a sprawling Enroth for the game-winner.
“He made a great play,” Green said of Ovechkin, who had a four-point night. “I know it’s tough for him not to shoot that puck but what an unselfish play that was.”
Enroth was in a tough spot, needing to stay with Ovechkin and unable to cheat to the pass.
“Especially when it’s Ovechkin coming down there,” Enroth said. “He had the inside shot there so I challenged a little bit extra and he … got it over to Green, who was pretty far down near the goal line. It was a pretty long pass for me.”
“We didn’t do well enough in the first and kind of let ‘Jhony’ out to dry there,” said winger Matt Moulson, who had a pair of assists.