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For Enroth, little safety in numbers; Backup goalie reflects after 22-start season

Jhonas Enroth, probably more than any other player on the Sabres, couldn't believe it was time to clean out his locker this week.

"It feels like it's just December or something," Enroth said, "but it's probably because I haven't been playing as much as I've been playing previous years."

Enroth's first full season in the NHL taught him the complete course load of Buffalo Goaltending 101. He can do a thesis on how the backup netminder never gets as much work as he envisioned.

Enroth, who earned the backup job after going 9-2-2 in relief of injured Ryan Miller at the end of 2010-11, knew Miller would get the bulk of the starts this season. Still, the 23-year-old figured he had shown enough to earn at least 30 nods.

He finished with 22. Add in the four times Enroth replaced Miller, and he appeared in 26 games. It was short of his expectations, but it was still the most for a Buffalo backup since Martin Biron played 35 times in 2005-06.

"I was hoping for 30 games this year, but almost," Enroth said. "Ryan was playing really well down the stretch there the last couple of months, so I guess you can't really bench Miller when he was playing that well."

Indeed, Miller went on a stellar run from mid-January to the end of March, compiling a 19-3-5 record. Coach Lindy Ruff rode the hot goalie and kept Enroth pinned to the pine.

Enroth made just three starts from Jan. 19 to the end of the season, including the nod in the meaningless finale Saturday in Boston.

"I think I played three games in the last three months or something like that, so it's obviously nothing I want to do again," Enroth said. "Hopefully, next year I can be a little more sharp when I get the chance and earn a couple more games. It's a tough stretch, and it's tough to play when you almost never play. It's definitely tough."

Enroth finished with an 8-11-4 record and a 2.70 goals-against average. His .917 save percentage ranked 16th in the league. Though his record didn't come close to last year's 9-2-2 mark, Enroth was proud his GAA dropped from 2.73 and his save percentage jumped from .907.

"I think this year [was better], especially my individual stats there really tell that," he said. "I think I had an OK year."

It was definitely an up-and-down year. Enroth won his first six starts en route to an 8-3-1 record. He went 0-9-2 in his last 11 decisions. His last victory came Nov. 26 during a 5-1 shellacking of Washington.

"I guess where I a little bit lost the season was when we started to have a lot of injuries on the team," he said. "That's probably where I started losing my confidence a little bit, but I think I had a bunch of good games after that, too. I didn't really come away with the wins in those games, but I had a bunch of really good games. It's too bad I couldn't get a couple more wins."

Nine of Enroth's starts came on the second night of back-to-back games. He went 3-4-2 as the Sabres provided him with just 2.33 goals per game.

The losses and lack of games sent him into the summer unsure of whether he'd be ready to assume a No. 1 role if the Sabres decided on a makeover that included shipping out Miller.

"It's tough to say," Enroth said. "I've only played 40 NHL games in my career, but I think overall I've played against really tough teams, and probably 90 percent of my games were back-to-back with traveling and stuff like that.

"I think I did pretty good. We'll see what happens next year."

email: jvogl@buffnews.com