Shootout struggles are a big topic in places where they’re costing teams points. The Detroit Red Wings are 1-7 in them this year and the Philadelphia Flyers were an NHL-worst 0-5. The New Jersey Devils are 2-19 the last two seasons.
Then you have the Buffalo Sabres. They’re 6-1 in shootouts, tied with the New York Islanders for the best record in the NHL. And they beat the Islanders in one here Saturday night as Tyler Ennis scored the only goal.
The Sabres’ shootout strength is clearly in net, where Jhonas Enroth has become a runaway leader among NHL goalies who have participated in more than two this season.
Enroth stoned all three Islanders shooters Saturday and has stopped a remarkable 20 of 21 attempts overall this season. His shootout save percentage of .952 far outstrips second place Pekka Rinne of Nashville, who is 17 of 19 for an .895. Enroth’s 5-0 record is the best in the league and tied with Florida’s Roberto Luongo (5-3) for the lead in wins.
Enroth ended Saturday’s shootout by stopping Islanders star John Tavares, who made about a dozen dekes with the puck while slowly coming down the ice hoping the Buffalo goaltender would crack. Enroth didn’t.
“I kind of knew he was going to do something like that,” Enroth said after practice Sunday in First Niagara Center. “I’ve seen him do similar stuff before. I just tried to stay patient and wait for his first move … or his last move, I guess. I’ve seen him do that before and I was kind of waiting for it.”
“One thing about Jhonas right now is he’s full of confidence,” said coach Ted Nolan. “He sees the puck real well, he’s following it very well and knock on wood with the shootouts, they don’t have too much to shoot when they come down on him, which means he’s in great position.”
Enroth has stopped 18 straight attempts in the shootout. He gave up a goal Oct. 14 to Carolina’s Chris Terry but stopped six more that night as Buffalo got its first win of the season with an eight-round affair.
Since then, Enroth has gone 12 of 12 – including all eight shots he’s faced at home.
“It’s so much mental,” he said. “I got a good start in shootouts this year down in Carolina and since then I’ve been taking off. It’s definitely mental, preparation and try to stay patient. The top guys like to deke, and I’m just waiting for moves.”
The Sabres are tied for third in the league in shootout goals with 10 and are ninth in shooting percentage at 37 percent (10 of 27). Ennis’ goal Saturday was his team-high third of the year in six attempts. Zemgus Girgensons leads the team with two game-winners.
Based on opponent, might the Sabres consider taking the air out of an overtime game simply to take their chances in the shootout? Nolan wouldn’t go that far but said the team has the right feeling when the game goes past OT.
“We feel comfortable with the way Jhonas is playing and our top four shooters,” Nolan said, referring to Matt Moulson, Ennis, Girgensons and Brian Flynn. “Between Matty Moulson, Ennis and Girgensons, they’re three pretty good shooters for us so we’re feeling confident with that.”
There are lots of fluid parts on the Buffalo defense heading into tonight’s game in Ottawa.
Tyler Myers (lower body), Rasmus Ristolainen (flu) and Andrej Meszaros (maintenance) all missed practice Sunday. Tyson Strachan, who has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, practiced fully Sunday for the first time and said he’s ready to go tonight.
Nolan said there’s a possibility Strachan can play and is still awaiting definitive word on Ristolainen. The Sabres, however, are clearly planning not to have either Ristolainen or Meszaros tonight as they have recalled Mark Pysyk from Rochester and he practiced with the team Sunday.
Elsewhere on the injury front, Nolan said captain Brian Gionta is on a week-to-week timetable with the upper-body injury he suffered last week in Boston. Marcus Foligno’s surgically repaired hand will keep him out around six more weeks.
More notes on Saturday’s big comeback against the Islanders:
• It was the first time the Sabres won a game after trailing by three goals since their 6-5 overtime home win over Toronto on April 3, 2012.
• It was just the second time in franchise history Buffalo has won when trailing, 3-0, in the third period. The only other time that happened was a 4-3 win here over Atlanta on April 2, 2003.
• The last time the Sabres reversed a three-goal deficit of any kind in the third period was their 7-4 win over Tampa Bay on March 19, 2008. Buffalo was trailing, 4-1, in that game before exploding for the final six goals.