By Brandon Koch
Buffalo Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth was evidently undaunted when he lined up on the opposite end from fellow Swede and Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Enroth stopped 23 shots en route to a 1-0 win and his first-career shutout at HSBC Arena on Wednesday night.
As it turns out, the rookie has pretty good timing, too. Not only did the shutout improve the Sabres’ place in the standings — now in seventh place with 87 points — but he out-dueled his boyhood idol in front of his parents, who were both in attendance to watch him play for the first time in Buffalo.
“It was a lot of fun,” Enroth said. “It was very special night for me tonight. “(Lundqvist's) been one of my idols from my childhood and it was a really big moment for me to beat him here.”
Enroth got the nod early Wednesday when Ryan Miller was a late scratch.
General manager Darcy Regier addressed the media prior to the 7 p.m. faceoff and said Miller is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury. Regier would not comment on whether or not the injury was a concussion, but said the shot he took to the chin area Tuesday night from Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf “did play a role.”
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said the game was good indication of how hard Enroth works between starts.
“It just tells you his preparation has been excellent,” Ruff said. “He’s worked hard, stayed focused and hasn’t played for a period of time. He’s put in a lot of work during practice, after practice.”
Despite the playoff type atmosphere, Enroth was as calm as could be.
The rookie has played in seven one-goal games this season, five of which he’s come out of on the winning end.
“He’s a cool customer. He doesn’t get rattled, he doesn’t get too excited,” Ruff said. “I thought he handled the game really well. I thought the team did a really good job in front of him.”
The Sabres jump into seventh place but are still tied with the Rangers for the bottom to playoff spots in the Eastern Conference at 87 points each. Both are two points behind sixth-place Montreal, which lost 6-2 to the surging Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes remain three points out with 84 points. The Habs, however, have lost six of their last 10.
“It’s a great character win for us,” Sabres forward Jason Pominville said. “We weren’t too happy about the way we played (Tuesday) night. We handed them opportunities. They didn’t have to work for anything. I think tonight we did a good job. We played well defensively for the most part.”
Marc-Andre Gragnani was back in the lineup to give an added boost to the back end of the power play in the absence of the injured Jordan Leopold.
Ruff was awarded for the move, as Gragnani picked up an assist on the lone goal of the game, a power-play tally from Tim Connolly.
Gragnani’s assist came when he neatly defended a partial three-on-one break, sliding to break up the pass and the puck ended up on Vanek’s stick, who fed Connolly for goal.
“I thought Marc played well for us. That play alone was maybe a game changer,” Ruff said. “But I thought his puck movement out of the ‘D’ zone was something that was really missed (Tuesday) night.”
Gragnani has been having an stellar season AHL Portland. He leads all AHL defensemen in assists (48) and points (60) through 63 games this season.
Ruff elected to make Shaonne Morrisonn a healthy scratch. The coach said he was unhappy with Morrisonn’s play following Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss in Toronto in which Morrisonn sported a minus-3 plus-minus rating in just 8:36 minutes of ice time.
Jochen Hecht was back out of the lineup after re-aggravating an upper-body injury in Toronto. Matt Ellis was recalled early Wednesday and played in his stead. Mike Grier remained sidelined with a knee injury.
Despite the loss, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist continued his Vezina-caliber season.
The Sabres challenged him early and often, none perhaps better than a nifty move by Thomas Vanek late. Vanek turned Dan Girardi inside out, slid in on Lundqvist, but he steered it away.
“He made a couple dandies,” Ruff said of Lundqvist, who stopped 34 shots. “I thought the glove save on Stafford on the two-on-one and the play in front of the net that (Vanek) didn’t quite get up, starring at an open net. He made a couple really good ones.”
The Rangers franchise goaltender got a bit of a scare with 24 seconds left in the second period. The officials whistled the play dead during a Sabres offensive-zone possession when Lundqvist came up a bit ginger and was in noticeable pain but he remained in the game.
Lundqvist was named the NHL’s third star last week after posting a 2-0-1 record with a 0.32 goals against average, .987 save percentage and a pair of shutout wins.