Former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff earned his 600th career coaching win against his old team as the Dallas Stars ousted the visiting Sabres 3-2 in a game that might have gotten out of hand were it not for the strong play of goaltender Jhonas Enroth. The Sabres played on their heels for most of the game as they saw their three game winning streak come to an end.
The Sabres opened the scoring late in the first period on a Tyler Ennis deflection from a beautiful saucer pass by Drew Stafford. The 1-0 score at the first intermission was a misnomer though as the Stars held the bulk of the action, as reflected by the 16-5 shot margin after one period. The Stars kept up their play and were rewarded with a 2-1 lead after two periods. Tyler Ennis scored his second of the game to tie it on a high bounce that got lost by Kari Lehtonen, but a late Stars power play goal off a Jamie Benn rocket gave the Stars the last goal they’d need.
With the reality of the game and team’s situation once again highlighted, let’s touch on a few positive thoughts for the road. Things have gotten dark in Buffalo and it might be a while before any hope is reflected on the ice, but let’s pull together people. What did I say last week? We need to find good players and good performances and celebrate them, win or lose.
Despite the result and the general flow of play, Sabres fans had to be encouraged by the play of Tyler Ennis. He always seems to be the lynchpin of whatever line he’s on — usually Stafford and Matt Moulson. I’ve already argued for Ennis’ place on this team beyond 2014, so I’ll be brief with him. The glaring difference between Ennis and any other Buffalo skater — save for Brian Flynn in terms of raw speed — was once again on display. He creates space and he creates offense. Everyone else is a grinder or a finisher.
Tyler Myers was also a bright spot on both defense and offense. He lead the team in ice time with a much deserved 23:41. Myers brings a unique element with his speed and ability to shield the puck while carrying it to the corner and start a cycle for possession. His name has come up of late in trade rumors, but once again I don’t think the Sabres should bite. His play of late speaks to the growth in his game. Ted Nolan has been able to challenge Myers and pull a better game from him, even if there is room for improvement. At his age, that’s a good sign.
Brightest of all though was Jhonas Enroth. Saving 36 of 39 shots sent his way, Enroth provided both quality and quantity in his performance. There were several big stops on some of the team’s best forwards, including Jamie Benn and Alex Chiasson. Dallas is a middle of the road team and this game should have been over by the mid point of regulation. Such is the disparity between Buffalo’s skaters and those of the rest of the league. Jhonas Enroth was the media’s first star and he’s my first star tonight.
This game was a perfect example of why trading Ryan Miller was the right move. Is Miller a better goalie than Enroth? Of course, but it doesn’t matter. The Sabres can’t control possession and they don’t create enough offense to be a threat to anyone in this league. Two goalies playing at the same time couldn’t bring this team to the playoffs. They have no dynamic offensive element to their game, and they can’t easily get that. No one can. Few teams are making their best creative offensive players available because those are the rarest types to be found. You have to find these players in the draft and properly groom them. It’s easy to say the Sabres got worse as a team with Miller gone, but that’s barely true. They’re still very bad, and goalie still isn’t the issue.
If the choice is between Miller and Enroth plus the players we ultimately get from the Miller trade, I’ll take option B every time. That’s what this team needs this year to best move forward. Ryan Miller may have been the franchise, but Jhonas Enroth isn’t exactly peanuts. The Sabres have a younger goalie in Enroth who can either prove his mettle in the worst of situations, or he can be a stopgap until the next guy comes along. He’ll have time to prove himself. As Miller proved with his selection to Team USA and his trade value, playing well on a losing team can still turn some heads.