Buffalo Sabres Player of the Week 10/29-11/5

The Buffalo Sabres just completed game No. 13, a 3-2 shootout win over division rival Ottawa Senators, and with two straight victories in as many nights, the team should be feeling good about themselves once again.

(Ryan) “Millergate” is still in full swing, however, and word has it (and I don’t blame him) that he was none too happy about being the backup goalie (for the second straight night) in Saturday’s tilt against the Sens. When prompted by reporters before the Ottawa game yesterday, he reportedly answered just one question. In response to whether he was healthy enough to play against the Senators, Miller said “yes”, and then reportedly retreated immediately to the back dressing area.

I fully expect to see him between the pipes on Tuesday at home, when the Sabres take on the Winnipeg Jets (It’s great to be able to say that name once again). Additionally, the night should be quite emotional, with former Sabres (and Jets) great Dale Hawerchuk, and Sabres golden-throated play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret being inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame. Keep the Kleenex handy.

This past week saw the Sabres go from low (losses to the Florida Panthers and Philadelphis Flyers) to high (a 44-shot, 2-1 victory against the Calgary Flames on Friday night, followed by the victory in Ottawa), and it’s time to recognize the Player of the Week for October 29th-November 5th, 2011:

Jhonas Enroth

Enroth came into the 2011-12 season as Ryan Miller’s backup goalie, replacing Patrick Lalime, and giving Sabres coach Lindy Ruff a very capable option behind Miller finally. Enroth is probably penciled in for 20-25 games, giving Miller ample rest, especially on back-to-back nights, which the Sabres have the most of in the league this season. So far, the student is outplaying the master. Enroth is 4-0 on the season, with a 1.41 GAA and ridiculous .952 SV%, and some of the highlight-reel saves he is making are reminding some around these parts of a former Sabres great who is a lock for the NHL Hall of Fame, Dominik Hasek. While I am by no means putting Enroth in Hasek’s class (yet), I will say that many of the game’s great players (and netminders) just needed a chance to prove themselves on the big stage, never looking back in the process. If Hasek had remained stuck behind Ed Belfour in Chicago, we may never have had the chance to witness perhaps the greatest regular season goalie in NHL history.

If early indications prove true, the Buffalo Sabres should be set in goal for the next 10 years.

Miller was between the pipes for the Sabres 3-2 loss against the Panthers, and started the game four nights later at home against the Flyers, giving up three quick goals before being pulled in favor of Enroth, who shut the door the rest of the way in another 3-2 Sabres loss. Enroth made 15 saves in 2 1/2 shutout periods versus Philadelphia, prompting coach Ruff to start the diminutive Swede at home in Friday night’s matchup against Calgary.

While the Sabres were all over the Flames, and their Swedish netminder Henrik Karlsson, pouring 44 shots on goal in a 2-1 victory, Enroth made 28 saves of his own, some in spectacular, unorthodox fashion. One save in particular, a flash-the-glove, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t type, had Flames center Olli Jokinen so incensed, he glared at Enroth for five to ten seconds before having words with the Sabres’ stopper. If not outshadowed by Karlsson’s 42-save performance, Enroth is easily the best player on the ice.

Saturday night figured to be Miller’s shot at redemption. A chance to show the hockey world, his teammates, coaching staff, and the city of Buffalo that there is no question as to who the starting job belongs to.

Miller never got that chance.

Going on “a hunch”, and throwing out “a bone” for how well he has played, Ruff told a surprised Enroth on the plane ride to the Canadian capital that he was getting the nod over Miller to start against Ottawa. No one was shocked to see Enroth start at home against the Flames, but nearly everyone keeping tabs on the situation (except perhaps Ruff) figured Miller would be back in his “rightful” spot on Saturday.

The coach was right, of course. Enroth deserved the start, will not forget Ruff’s confidence in him, and should reward his coach’s faith going forward.

On Saturday, Enroth made 25 saves against the much improved Senators team, guiding the Sabres to a 3-2 shootout victory.  He made quite a few key stops, one on Senators forward Nick Foligno, who probably had the same feelings towards the Sabres goalie that the Flames Jokinen did. Foligno darted into the Sabres zone, put a little move on Enroth to draw him to his right, and shot the puck back towards the goalie’s left, anticipating a wide open left side of the goal. Enroth shot out his left pad with quickness and ease, looking as if he’s done it a million times before, and made the save. In the shootout, the Senators seemed to have had Enroth figured out, with their first two shooters scoring between the goalie’s legs.

They should’ve known better.

Enroth slammed the door shut on the next four Ottawa shooters, with a calmness that is almost eerie at times. He gave his team chance after chance to pull out a victory, and finally Derek Roy ended the night with a spectacular top-shelf goal.

Jhonas Enroth ended the week 2-0, allowing only 3 goals on 71 shots, in 2 1/2 games of work. More importantly though, he was the main factor in pulling the Sabres out of  a funk that saw them lose four out of five, three of which came on home ice.

There should be no goalie controversy in Buffalo just yet, but the kid has served notice that he’s on his way, and fast.

And that’s a good thing.



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Tags: Buffalo Sabres Calgary Flames Derek Roy Jhonas Enroth Nick Foligno Olli Jokinen Ottawa Senators Ryan Miller

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