Saturday morning felt like a bit of a homecoming for Jhonas Enroth.
The Swedish goaltender grew up in the Buffalo Sabres organization and, in all honestly, was emotional when the team dealt him away last February.
He quickly got his emotions in check Saturday night as his former team tested him early. Enroth finished with 28 saves for the visiting Los Angeles Kings, giving up a goal in overtime to take the 2-1 loss in First Niagara Center.
“It was very special obviously,” Enroth said of playing against the Sabres. “I just tried to have fun with it. I was pretty nervous but I just kept telling myself to have fun and play like a normal game. They came out pretty good. The first period they owned us. I got in a pretty good rhythm and felt pretty good from the start. They’re a pretty fast team. It’s pretty impressive to see.”
Enroth had opportunity to settle into his game early as the Sabres poured 12 shots on him. In the second period he quickly became a fan of the coach’s challenge, which disallowed a goal after a video reviewed showed a missed offsides call.
“Oh definitely. I like that rule now,” Enroth said with a smile.
He was still smiling when discussing his own disappointment on the way he played the shot from Ryan O’Reilly which won the game with 1:41 left in OT.
“I was a bit disappointed,” Enroth said. “I wish I would have stayed on my feet a little longer. I just saw him going down and I thought he’s going to go down. He just whacked the puck in. He beat me on my blocker side. It was a really nice second effort from him. I wish I would have played that one a little differently.”
Enroth was a second-round Sabres draft pick in 2006 and played for its then-American Hockey League affiliate in Portland before getting his first NHL game in the 2009-10 season.
He became Ryan Miller’s backup. Then Miller was traded and Enroth got his opportunity. Last season he had a .903 save percentage and a 3.27 goals-against average, picking up 13 wins in 37 games with the Sabres. And while the 2014-15 season had few good vibes for Sabres players, it may be Enroth’s best memory of his time in Buffalo
“Honestly I think my last season here, last year,” Enroth said when asked of his best memory of playing for the Sabres. “It’s a season I’m very proud of and looking back at it, kind of smile when I think about it. It was a tough season for us but I got to play a lot of games and I felt good throughout that year and it was a good experience.”
Traded to Dallas last year, Enroth signed with the Kings in the summer and became one of four former Sabres on the roster with defensemen Brayden McNabb, Christian Ehrhoff and Jamie McBain.
But that top-goalie role he had in Buffalo last season? That was never going to be the case in L.A. with Jonathan Quick minding the net. Saturday was Enroth’s sixth game of the season. He was 3-1-0 with a 1.17 goals-against and .962 save percentage in his first five. While playing backup is difficult for a goaltender, an older Enroth has a greater sense how to approach the role.
“I think I was in a similar position with Miller here,” Enroth said. “I think I played a couple more games back then but it’s a situation I feel pretty, well, I can say I’m pretty used to it. I’m just trying to stay sharp in practice and be sharp whenever I get the nod. I feel like I know what I need to do know. I’m a couple years older and so far I’ve been playing pretty well when I’ve got my chances so I’m just trying to look for more games.”
Ehrhoff has returned as a regular blueliner in the NHL. The former Sabre was with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year but appeared in just 49 regular-season games after suffering two concussions.
“My youngest daughter was born,” in Pittsburgh “so that’s something I’ll cherish but I had a tough season being hurt almost all of the second half and throughout the playoffs so it was definitely a tough season,” Ehrhoff said.
He signed with the Kings in the offseason and said the summer was different for him.
“It was little different than other summers coming off the two concussions and having basically only played a few games since late January,” Ehrhoff said. “It took me a lot longer to get back into shape and in that way it was a lot different.”
New Era officially dedicated its store at First Niagara Center Saturday and announced its New Era First Niagara Center Cap Initiative. For every cap purchased at First Niagara between Dec. 12 and Dec. 31, the company will donate an exclusive commemorative knit cap to a patient at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.