Jhonas Enroth backstopped the Buffalo Sabres losses last Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes and this past Tuesday against the Washington Capitals, giving up five goals in each start In doing so, he saw his season record drop to 1-10-5. More mind boggling than a record that almost seems hard to attain even if you’re trying to lose is the fact that Enroth has actually played decent through that stretch. At least that’s what Sabres fans are telling themselves after what might have been Enroth’s worst start of the season. With the team likely to move starter Ryan Miller, GM Tim Murray needs to decide on which goaltender in the system will slide in behind Enroth, and if that will be enough.
He doesn’t fit the prototypical mold of a starting NHL goalie in 2014. Jhonas Enroth stands at 5’10″ and weighs 166 lbs. The biggest concern isn’t whether Jhonas Enroth can give you a big game. He can. He played well overseas in the World Championships last summer. When the Sabres were making a playoff push in 2011 and Ryan Miller went down, Enroth stepped up with a big stretch of games. But he just can’t seem to get the wins in recent years, and his play has been inconsistent for much of the last two seasons. Small goalies rarely hold up as long term starters in the NHL without a Nearly as Good back up. Enroth’s numbers aren’t bad — his career save percentage is .913 — but if the Sabres are going to use numbers, they’ll need to use them all in assessing Enroth as a legitimate starter down the road.
For years now, the word in the crease has been size. It’s not just that a smaller guy’s body is less likely to hold up against a 60-65 game starter’s workload. It’s that forwards are better than ever, and everyone knows that the best spot to beat a goalie is high. Consider the latest two starts. In both games, Enroth was beat high several times, which leaves one to wonder if teams have him figured out. Does Semin’s first goal in the Carolina game have any chance of beating Ryan Miller? It’s impossible to tell, but Miller’s size gives him a better chance at the same shots all the time.
Look at the top 25 goalies in save percentage and how many do you find at heights of 5’10″ or shorter? One. Jaroslav Halak, who has been effective in his time, but hasn’t exactly been a pillar of consistency in his career. Halak has never played more than 57 games (46 and 45 GP are second and third most) in a season and in that season, his save percentage was an Enroth-esque .910. He has also struggled with injuries under the duress of an NHL season. If Buffalo makes Enroth the starter, they need to invest in a backup. That might be a backup at the AHL level along with a promotion for Matthew Hackett to be an NHL backup. Or the team could opt for a more experienced goalie in free agency. There are plenty due for a new contract this summer. Either way, the plan can’t be Jhonas Enroth playing more than 50 games in a season until he proves he can play beyond that.
So let’s say the Sabres go the route of Enroth + a 30 game guy. Is that a good enough tandem going forward? For now, I say yes. In limiting what you play two goalies, you limit what you pay two goalies. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s worked for St. Louis and other teams and it could work for Buffalo. If they can keep their goalie tandem on the low end of cap hits, they can afford to bolster their blue line, which is the real goal-stopping force that makes a goalie look good, great or average. Enroth has been average in numbers and performance but getting erratic starts on the worst team in the league skews anything we see in the crease at least for this year.
Tim Murray can only worry about one goalie at a time. Right now, All-Star Ryan Miller is the team’s biggest concern, whether it be Miller as a Sabre or Miller as a returning draft pick. Once that’s decided on though, the team must turn to Jhonas Enroth one way or another. They have Enroth under contract for one more year at a cozy $1.1M cap hit. Murray can take that year to watch and assess the goalie situation. How Jhonas Enroth delivers under the microscope will likely determine his and the team’s future.
Topics: Jhonas Enroth