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.