Jhonas Enroth still shares a dressing room with Ryan Miller, so he chose to defer to Miller on Wednesday when the future of the Sabres’ crease came up in conversation.
“I don’t really think about it that much,” Enroth said. “Ryan is still a Sabre here, so I’m just trying to be professional about it and take it as it comes.”
While it’s respectful of Enroth to remain in Miller’s shadow, it doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo’s No. 1 goalie has one skate out the door. It’s a near certainty Miller will be traded by the deadline Wednesday, so someone has to become the starter for the final 23 games of the season.
Enroth finally put another win on his resume with a 5-4 overtime victory over Boston in First Niagara Center. He made 29 saves to improve to 2-12-5. It was his first victory since a 3-1 decision Oct. 25 in Florida, and it was made possible when Matt Moulson tied the game with 52.3 seconds left and Matt D’Agostini ended it 22 seconds into overtime.
“It was nice to win finally,” said Enroth, who received hearty congratulatory hugs from his teammates. “This was the kind of game that I have had against me, so it was nice to get it for me.”
The Sabres are expected to make a number of trades in the next week, and it’s likely a goalie will come to Buffalo in the transactions. One will be needed because the Sabres’ minor-league netminders – Nathan Lieuwen and Matt Hackett – aren’t ready for NHL work.
“We have a couple good young goalies here, and if one of them is the goalie of the future, it’s not the near future,” General Manager Tim Murray said in Rochester this month while watching the Amerks. “It’s a little bit down the road. I don’t think either one of them is ready to step in and start for the Buffalo Sabres.”
Amerks coach Chadd Cassidy concurred Wednesday.
“It’s a little bit early for these guys to kind of be thrust into that position,” Cassidy said by phone from Iowa. “Down the road? Absolutely.”
Hackett is 23 years old and has played 178 professional games, including 13 in the NHL. Lieuwen, 22, has played 56 games in the minors.
“If we do lose someone like Ryan, that’s a lot to put on a 22-, 23-year-old kid to go into that situation,” Cassidy said. “I think there’s a certain amount of minutes and a certain amount of professional hockey that you need to play before you’re ready for it.”
Hackett may be more familiar to Sabres fans because he came to the organization in the Jason Pominville trade, but Lieuwen is surging up the depth chart. The 22-year-old AHL rookie is 14-7-2 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, including a 2.06 and .932 since December.
“Nathan Lieuwen has been a really outstanding surprise,” Cassidy said of the Sabres’ sixth-round draft pick in 2011. “He really is developing nicely and has taken the ball and run with it in terms of the opportunity that we’ve given him.
“He’s got a tremendous work ethic, and probably his best attribute is he’s got a pretty short-term memory and a good outlook on life. Those are things you’ve got to have at the goaltending position. He doesn’t let things bother him.”
Hackett, who appeared in one game for Minnesota last year before being dealt to Buffalo, hasn’t shown he’s ready for his next NHL game. He’s 13-14-2 with a 2.78 GAA and .907 save percentage.
“He hasn’t probably had as good a year as he would have liked to have had,” Cassidy said. “He got off to a little bit of a slow start, and I think he’s kind of been climbing uphill and working on building his habits back and working on building his game back up. In our recent surge where we’ve started playing better as a team, he’s played much, much better.”
Though Lieuwen and Hackett are younger and less experienced than the 25-year-old Enroth, they do have one advantage. Lieuwen is 6-foot-5 and Hackett is 6-2. Enroth is 5-10.
“They’re both good size, which I like,” Murray said. “I like big goalies.”
The most important thing will be to find a goalie who can come up big when Miller is gone.
“That would be the one position that I’ll waffle on,” Murray said. “I don’t waffle very often, but I’ll leave that out there and let those guys decide who it is.”