Paging Jhonas Enroth. Jhonas, are you out there?
Poor kid – he’s been missing since November 26, 2011, which is the last time he won a game. That night, Enroth backed the Sabres to a 5-1 win over the Washington Capitals. Since then? He’s 0-10-3, including an 0-2 mark this season. He hasn’t played since February 5th, and it’s safe to say he’s pretty much a forgotten man.
Except I haven’t forgotten about you, Jhonas.
Sure: the kid’s lost his way. But he’s still on the roster, and for God’s sakes, the Sabres need to have a suitable backup for Ryan Miller, who was so exhausted at the end of Sunday night’s game against the New York Rangers that he gave up this:
I know I mentioned this in my knee-jerk reaction piece, but it bears repeating: if my wife noticed that Miller wasn’t sharp during the game, then there can be no doubt about it: Miller wasn’t sharp. My wife knows just enough about to hockey to be dangerous, so if she had zero confidence in him come the shootout, it was for a darn good reason. Even last night against Carolina, he wasn’t quite the same player he has been of late. Carolina had four shots in the third period . . . and scored on two of them. The Hurricanes should have been blanked that period, no doubt.
Look: I understand the season is shortened, and the Sabres are fighting for their playoff lives. Relying on Ryan Miller makes sense . . . until he’s too exhausted to play physically- and mentally-sound hockey, and then it doesn’t make sense. Every team in the NHL gives their number one guy a breather, and the Sabres are no different, so if Buffalo is not willing to put Enroth on waivers and are committed to keeping him on the roster, then they have to use him more than once a month. More importantly, they have to find a way to use him in such a way that he will start to feel good about his game again. You never know what is going to happen with injuries, and you don’t want a nervous, self-conscious Enroth in net in the latter stages of the season.
So how would I start using Enroth?
For starters, The Sabres need to look at their schedule and find a winnable game coming up soon that would be suitable for Jhonas Enroth to start. Last night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes might not have been an ideal start, since Carolina has been averaging 3 goals a game, but then again, the Hurricanes had to pull up Justin Peters from the AHL to start in place of the injured Cam Ward, so knowing that, maybe Rolston should have given Enroth the green light. That’s all hindsight now, but the idea still applies: find a team the Sabres match up against really well, and give Jhonas the green light. Then, play him on a regular basis. I don’t care if it’s once every ten games, but the Sabres at least have to let Enroth know when his spot in the rotation is so he’s not wondering if he’ll ever play again.
After that, I would be pretty aware of his fragile mindset. For example, I would not wait until Ryan Miller is so exhausted he cannot put his pads on to play Enroth. It is probably too late for that – last night’s game against Carolina was the 14th consecutive game Miller has started – but using Enroth on a regular basis, instead of waiting until there is no other option, is much more likely to help him build his confidence back up. Enroth isn’t dumb: he knows the Sabres have no trust in him, and that they are willing to play Miller to death before they even give him a look. When he finally does get a start, he’s going to understand it is only because the Sabres have no other option, not because they actually believe he can do his job filling in for Ryan Miller. That cannot be the case. Enroth has to feel like the organization still believes he can play this game, a message which is clearly not being sent to him right now.
When he does play, the coaches and players also need to avoid pointing a finger at him in the post-game interviews. Lindy Ruff was pretty blunt after Enroth’s last start, saying “We need better goaltending. There’s no secret about that.” Everyone in the NHL is a big boy, granted, and they have a job to do. Enroth did not play as well as the Sabres would have liked him to, and I’m not expecting the coaches to go out of their way to praise him when he doesn’t deserve it. However, given his struggles, if the Sabres lose while Enroth is in net Ron Rolston needs to choose his words wisely, especially there have been other Sabres struggling besides just Jhonas. Some players respond to being called out in the media; I can’t imagine a goalie who hasn’t won a game in nearly two years would be one of those guys. Rolston and the rest of the team need to accentuate the positive things that Enroth is doing in net, to give him something to build on leading into his next start.
I may be guilty of assuming things; namely, I’m assuming the Sabres have kept Enroth in Buffalo because they believe he is still a viable backup for Miller. Assuming things has gotten me in trouble before, but why else would Enroth still be sitting on the bench every night wearing the blue and gold? If the Sabres wanted to get rid of him they could have, easily and a long time ago. They kept him, so they have to give this kid a chance to figure out his game, or play his way right out of Buffalo.
Agree? Disagree? Have any bright ideas on what to do with Jhonas? Leave your comments below, or follow me @theaveragedick!