Share this article

print logo

Enroth provides a comforting presence; Sabres have faith in young netminder

Perhaps the Buffalo Sabres' fan base, especially those who filled HSBC Arena on Wednesday night, might have been a little antsy at the sudden news of an injury to goaltender Ryan Miller. But things remained calm in the dressing room.

The confidence was borne through faith in Jhonas Enroth. The 22-year-old Swede got the news he was replacing Miller in the morning. He had been waiting to play for 2 1/2 weeks and was more than ready.

Enroth outplayed Henrik Lundqvist, an idol from his native Sweden, as the Sabres posted a clutch 1-0 win over the New York Rangers.

The Sabres were off Thursday, so there will be no update on Miller's status for this weekend's games against Washington and Carolina until the team practices today. But if the starter can't go, this team knows the kid can get the job done too.

Ever since Martin Biron was dealt at the trade deadline in 2007, Buffalo backups have failed to earn coach Lindy Ruff's confidence. But Enroth is 6-2-1 this season, becoming the first goalie in NHL history to earn his first three career wins in shootouts.

"He's a cool customer. He doesn't get rattled," Ruff said Wednesday. "He doesn't get too excited. I thought he handled the game really well."

The Sabres have always been high on Enroth. He was their second-round draft pick (46th overall) in 2006, Buffalo's highest choice for a goalie since Mika Noronen was chosen in 1997. Miller, remember, was a fifth-rounder and the 138th player taken overall in 1999.

As a 19-year-old, Enroth led the Swedish Elite League with a 2.13 goals-against average in the 2007-08 season. He signed a three-year, $1.9 million deal with the Sabres in June 2008 and immediately announced he was ready to challenge Miller. He later realized that was a little premature but Enroth has put together three solid seasons in Portland that have made him NHL-ready.

"It's a good experience. I'm starting to feel a more confident after every game, so it's really good for my confidence," Enroth said. "I just have to keep working hard, keep my feet on the ground and don't think I'm better than I am."

Enroth's record has been huge for Buffalo's playoff hopes in the ultra-tight Eastern Conference. Patrick Lalime is 0-5 this season and has not won since March 27, 2010. In fact, he's just 9-26-5 in three seasons backing up Miller.

Among other factors, getting points from the backup goalie is clearly a reason the Sabres are in the hunt for spots 6-8 in the Eastern Conference.

"If you know Jhonas, he's a pretty calm and quiet guy," said defenseman Mike Weber. "He's in it all the time. He thinks the game extremely well, and he's kind of like [Miller] in that way. When they get into a zone things can turn pretty special pretty quick."

"Jhonas stood on his head there," said defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani. "I think that's the best game I've ever seen him play. I've played with him three years so that says a lot about him. Especially because of the importance of this game. I think he looks confident and I know all the guys are happy for him."

Enroth quickly became a huge topic in the league with the win and was a guest Thursday on "NHL Live," the midday hockey talk show simulcast on the NHL Network, and XM Satellite Radio.

"I wasn't that nervous," Enroth said on the broadcast. "I was pretty calm and felt good about myself. I just wanted to enjoy the moment and savor it."

Enroth is a generously listed 5-foot-10, 166 pounds and wears No. 1. Fans have gotten used to goalies like Miller who are 6-foot and taller in Sabres uniforms the last 10 years, but Enroth's body type and style brings longtime observers back to three others who wore No. 1 for at least part of their time in Buffalo.

Roger Crozier, the team's crossbar-grabbing acrobat of the early 1970s, was 5-8 and 160. Don Edwards, who burst on the scene a couple of years after Crozier retired, was 5-9, 160 and 1979 draftee Jacques Cloutier was 5-7, 160.

All of them had good moments in the blue and gold and many came when they stepped in for regulars. In Edwards' case, he replaced Gerry Desjardins in 1976 and never left. Being ready is a tough job for goalies but Enroth has done it well.

"It tells you his preparation has been excellent," Ruff said. "He's worked hard. He's stayed focused even though he hasn't played for a period of time. He put a lot of work in during practice, after practice, and it just tells you that when preparation and opportunity meet, he did a heck of a job for us."


There are no comments - be the first to comment