With the Buffalo Sabres preseason well underway, I continue to play Devil’s Advocate for, and against, some of the players who are fighting to retain, or fighting to win, a permanent spot on the Sabres’ roster.
In some ways, this post could also be called the case against Jhonas Enroth, since Enroth is currently the back-up goalie for the Sabres behind current starter, Ryan Miller. After all, I’m advocating that Hackett could easily slide into the back-up role, with the hopes of inheriting the starting job when – sorry, if – Miller leaves town. I don’t want to sit here and bag on Enroth, however, even though he did lose 241 consecutive games at one point – it’s true! I’ll just say that, despite his solid play at the end of last season (an effort that did not go unrecognized by me), I have little to no confidence in Enroth’s ability to withstand the pressure of having to be the guy who starts 50-60+ games a year for the Buffalo Sabres. Sorry, Jhonas, but I get the feeling that you’re destined to be a backup for pretty much all of your playing career.
Matt Hackett, on the other hand . . . let’s start with what we have seen recently. Due to Ron Rolston’s decision to play Hackett this preseason in order to see what the kid has to offer, we have been given the opportunity to see how he handles two different types of pressure. Against Montreal, he came into a back-and-forth affair in which the Sabres never led until they won the game in a shootout. In that game, Hackett entered the second period with the Sabres down 3-2 and did a great job of keeping them in the game, stopping 11 out of 12 shots and stoning all three of the Canadiens he faced in the shootout.
Last night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets presented Hackett with a different type of challenge. Instead of being asked to keep the Sabres within striking distance, Hackett came into the game with the Sabres and Blue Jackets tied 1-all and spent the third period trying to dash any hopes Columbus had of making a comeback. The fact that the Blue Jackets only managed 5 shots in the third made his job a bit easier, but once again, Hackett came in and played extremely well, stopping all nine of the shots he faced.
Hackett has not seen much NHL time – playing for the Minnesota Wild, he saw action in 13 games, going 3-7 with a .914 save percentage and a GAA of 2.64 – but he looked great in Rochester in the limited amount of time he spent with the Americans at the end of last season, and so far he has been rock-solid in between the pipes for the Sabres this preseason. He is only 23, and has managed to compile some good numbers while playing for some less-than-impressive teams (the Wild, and their AHL affiliate the Houston Aeros). More importantly, you just get a sense that Hackett is comfortable assuming the role of a starting goaltender in the NHL. Over the summer he told Sabres. com, “My goal is to come into camp and prove that I can play at the NHL level and give them a tough choice to make,” and so far, he has done just that. I know you’ve put in more time in the Buffalo Sabres’ system, Jhonas, but I’m here to tell you: Matt Hackett is coming to a Sabres team near you, soon. Best be looking over your shoulder.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Hackett, so leave your comments below or throw them my way @theamazingMrS!