As we sit and wait for the playoffs to start, it is a good time to sit back and reflect on the year that was. Each of the writers on the site has taken a different aspect of the team, and will breakdown the grades by their standards. Here are your goaltending reviews for the season past.
The current has dropped on what we can call the career of Patrick Lalime in Buffalo, and maybe the NHL. The journeymen found himself riding the bench this year, not only behind starting goaltender Ryan Miller, but after it was clear that he could not handle the backup duties here in the Queen City, he also backed up rookie sensation Jhonas Enroth. My favorite tweet of the year came at the first or second call up of Jhonas Enroth, labelling Patrick Lalime the on ice model for the Sabres store winter toque line. Nothing personal against Lalime, as he was probably a great guy to have in the locker room – and a good friend to Ryan Miller – but your actions on the ice are what give you a paycheck in this league – and I think its a fair assessment to say we would not be waiting for this series against Philadelphia if he was manning the crease during Ryan Miller’s down time this season. I have no doubt in my mind that Patty Lalime might be able to find work in the NHL after this season, there are plenty of bad teams in the league that might be looking for an inexpensive backup goaltender – maybe a team in a rebuilding phase that wants his locker room presence to calm the youngsters down before important games. Given more playing time – he might actually win a few games, but his style of play doesn’t allow for that in Buffalo – where the backup is going to sit more than play.
It is usually pretty hard to pick rookie of the year honors on a Buffalo Sabres team in this position, because so many young guys step into rolls that are unexpected. While this years honors won’t go to Jhonas Enroth, he should be strongly considered. Pulled from his normal duties in Portland this year to backstop Ryan Miller turned into regular starting duties while the Sabres starter was injured, Jhonas Enroth stacked an impressive resume this year – giving the Buffalo Sabres near future a bright spot when it comes to goaltending. Next year we will see how he holds up to the demands of regular backup duty – will he wilt under the lack of games, or will the confidence that he has given this coaching staff break the tradition and allow us to see a 60/22 split for our goaltenders, giving Ryan Miller more rest for longer playoff runs. Rarely showing emotion while in net, his calm demeanor kept the Buffalo Sabres in many games this season. Best highlight of the year – probably the shootout early in the year where he faced off against Kovalchuck. When Kovalchuck lost control of the puck and made little or no effort to recover, Enroth sat in the net and looked at the ref like, really is that it? Does he get another chance? The Buffalo Sabres have a long history of good goaltending – Jhonas Enroth is the bright spot of the future. If he can hang, I will have no problem giving him the crease when the Ryan Miller era ends.
Ryan Miller was not the best player that he could be. Whether it was the Olympics last year or getting engaged this year, he did not have the Zen like focus that we grew accustom to last year. The injuries may have had something to do with it as well. Not starting the season 100% and then going out twice during the year did not help with his in game behavior. He looked a little slow to respond to the game this year. Despite our shortcomings with Ryan Miller this year, he has continued to win 30 or more games, a feat that he has continued since the 2005-2006 campaign. Every goaltender has an off year. Look at Tim Thomas last year – he responded by coming back and making a strong case for the Vezina trophy. Granted, Tim Thomas has Tuuka Rask standing in the wings waiting to take his job at the first possible chance – something Ryan Miller does not have. With a culture change here in Buffalo and a backup goaltender that will play well in relief of Ryan Miller, hopefully having a good backup next year and being healthy from the get go will allow Ryan Miller to have a comeback year next year. Ryan Miller was also hung out to dry much this year with an inexperienced mosh posh defense in front of him. The defensive corp took a hit this past off season as both Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman left for other teams. When we needed Ryan Miller to be at his best because of that, there was a sense of that not happening – quite a bit. The shoulders were not big enough this season – and his numbers reflected that.