Playing goal in the NHL is a tough job for goalies of all varieties. Starters have to be sharp night in and night out to both keep their team winning and to keep their job. In cases like Buffalo where Ryan Miller is the #1 guy no matter what, being his backup means playing flawlessly when you do get a start and giving coach Lindy Ruff the confidence to give you more starts so Miller can be better rested for the playoffs.
In Jhonas Enroth’s case, his play while both Miller and then backup Patrick Lalime were hurt did just that and he was rewarded for it today signing a two-year deal with Buffalo. Enroth will go into his new deal as the full-time backup to Miller and when he got a chance to play last season, he managed to put Lalime out of a job and earned himself a spot in the everyday lineup for the Sabres.
Enroth is a guy who has grown up in the Sabres system and while the Sabres kept him in the AHL for most of last season, when he was called upon he provided the steady play that Lalime could not. In 14 games, Enroth went 9-2-2 with a 2.73 goals against average and a .907 save percentage. For a backup goalie, those numbers are decent and given how “average” Miller was last season, it wasn’t too much of a departure from what he was providing as the starter. Enroth also earned one shutout last season, his first in the NHL.
While the Sabres figure Miller will return more to his elite level of play next season, Enroth’s job will be to continue being solid in relieving Miller and keeping him rested up for a playoff run later in the year. If Enroth plays as well as he’s capable, Miller should be able to stay fresh for the season. Last year, Miller came off looking rusty and tired at times and given his playoff and Olympic workload from the season before that, it’s understandable.
This time around, he’s got a long summer to rest up and no added Team USA hangover to deal with either. In other words, things are looking up in goal in Buffalo and having Enroth be the solid backup would make life a lot easier for the Sabres.
According to various sources, Buffalo Sabres goalie Patrick Lalime is primed to retire after playing 444 regular season games and earning 200 wins. Lalime also had 21 wins in 41 career playoff contests, making for a solid career considering the fact that he was a sixth round pick (156th overall) in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.
Lalime began his career on fire. He set an NHL record with a 16-game unbeaten streak, going 14-0-2 to begin his days with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1996-97 season. That run helped him earn the top goalie spot on the All-Rookie team. Things went south for him after that, though, as he finished that season with a 21-12-2 record and was unable to earn NHL-level playing time with either the Penguins or Anaheim Ducks.
It wasn’t until he became a member of the Ottawa Senators in 1999-2000 that his career blossomed once again. Lalime went 146-100-30 and appeared in 283 regular games during that five-year span with the Senators, certainly marking the high point of his career. He became an All-Star in 2002-03 and earned 39 wins that season, the second most in the NHL.
Things fell apart once he left Ottawa, though. He had a lousy season with the St. Louis Blues, struggled but at least sustained his career during a couple seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and then finished his career with three seasons with the Sabres. The 2010-11 season gave obvious evidence to his waning relevance as an NHL backup; he went 0-5-0 in seven games played and gave way to Jhonas Enroth when the team was charging toward a playoff berth despite an injury to Ryan Miller. To many, he was basically a glorified goalie coach during the second half of the season.
Some might look at his playoff days with Ottawa as a set of letdowns (especially those who watch Jeff Friesen’s big goal against him during the 2003 Eastern Conference finals in an endless loop), but his overall postseason numbers are fantastic. His 21-20 record doesn’t do his individual output justice; his .926 save percentage and 1.77 GAA are absolutely sparkling.
If those reports of his retirement are indeed true – and it would be surprising to see him in the NHL again – then he should be remembered as an overachiever who helped Ottawa become a contender. He was one of the most well-liked goalies of his time, so chances are, if he wants to stay in the game in some capacity (as a coach or commentator) then he’ll probably find a place. It wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up being better than anyone expected in that role, either; overachieving seems to be what Lalime is best at.
The Buffalo Sabres might run the risk of playing one of the most important stretches of their 2010-11 season without far and away their most important player.
That’s not a sure thing by any means, but the fact that TSN reports that the all-world goalie Ryan Miller was unable to practice casts some doubt on whether or not he will join the team during their two-game road trip. The Sabres play the Capitals in Washington on Saturday and then play an especially big game against the Hurricanes on Sunday.
Buffalo is currently in seventh place with 87 points and five games remaining on their schedule. While they are certainly keeping an eye on the eight-place New York Rangers (87 points with four games left), it’s the ninth-place Canes who pose the biggest problem. Carolina has 84 points on the season and also has five games left on their schedule.
If Carolina beats Buffalo during regulation, that would close the gap to within one point (not counting what happens in the next two days, of course).
Losing Miller would greatly increase the Sabres’ odds of coughing up their slim lead over Carolina, but again, he could miss practice but still tough it out in the games themselves.
In the event that Miller does sit out games, Jhonas Enroth is more likely to carry the torch rather than Patrick Lalime. Enroth earned a 23-save shutout in Buffalo’s 1-0 win against the New York Rangers on Wednesday, but is relatively unproven with a 6-2-1 record this season.
Buffalo will only say that Miller has an upper-body injury according to TSN, so it’s anyone’s guess how long he will be out. Keep your eye on PHT for updates on his condition tomorrow.