By Bill Hoppe
Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth, a quiet, diminutive rookie, stood before all his teammates in the dressing room Thursday, holding a special reward for his career-high 41-save performance in a 4-2 triumph, a player of the game helmet.
But the memento wasn’t free, you know, so the soft-spoken Swede, a man of few words, had to give a short speech.
“To him, it was like, ‘Good job, power play,’” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “That’s it. End of the speech.”
Enroth had a point. The power play, mired in a one-of-17 funk, busted out for two goals in three tries. He also could’ve thanked agitator Patrick Kaleta, who fought a spirited bout early and scored the late winner against the hapless Columbus Blue Jackets. Enroth wouldn’t have been wrong acknowledging captain Jason Pominville, whose two-goal, three-point performance continued his scorching start.
Credit was due all around following the Sabres’ first win in three tries at the First Niagara Center this year. No one, however, deserved more than Enroth, who showcases a coolness few goalies possess.
“He puts a smile on your face because I don’t know if he ever gets excited,” Ruff said. “ … I think that’s what’s made him an effective goaltender. For his size (listed at 5-foot-10), he’s got this calmness, he’s got a patience about him that you don’t see out of many goaltenders.”
Enroth has won both appearances this season, bringing his career mark up to 11-3-2. Naturally, if he keeps up his recent exploits and starter Ryan Miller, brilliant this season other than a 4-3 loss Tuesday, falters at all, fans could start howling for more Enroth. It’s just the way sports work.
“I started howling that tonight, so it shouldn’t be anyone else,” Ruff joked. “I started howling because, man, he was making save after save and we were giving up odd-numbered rush after odd-numbered rush. I think the good part is we can use both guys. He’s proven that he can get us wins. He’s going to get his time.”
He added later: “It just tells you if you don’t play well, you’re not going to win unless you get tremendous goaltending. We should’ve won the other night and didn’t. Tonight we probably should’ve lost and won.”
Enroth should play every third or fourth game, and Ruff, possibly half-kidding, said he knows when he starts again cries of a goaltending controversy could erupt.
For Enroth, who stopped 17 shots in the opening period, that thought “would be crazy.”
“Anybody knows that Ryan Miller is one of the top guys in the league,” Enroth said. “I don’t know how many wins he has (225), but I’ve only played 17 games now.”
Right now, Ruff said he wants a “line controversy going.” With seven more points from the Pominville, Thomas Vanek (three assists) and Luke Adam (one helper) combination, only one line’s truly humming.
Kaleta’s line, with Paul Gaustad and Nathan Gerbe, has been coming on, though.
“We need some of that controversy up front, where guys start battling for those types of jobs,” Ruff said.
Enroth’s main point, the power play, had been a focal point of practice all week. That work paid off early, as Brad Boyes scored 14:07 into the game, his second straight contest with a goal after enduring an 18-game drought.
Ruff recently put Boyes, an adept trigger man down low, on the top power-play unit. He scored from the left circle.
“That’s what our goal is, to try to see if we can get him over there where he can one-time pucks,” Ruff said.
Later in the first, Kaleta fought Cody Bass, body-slamming him to the ground at the end and bringing a roar from the capacity crowd of 18,690 fans. Cody McCormick and Bass scrapped again later in the period.
Pominville tallied 4:51 into the second period, but the Sabres blew a 2-0 home lead for the second straight game. Vaclav Prospal scored at 12:10, then Fedor Tyutin tied it 10:51 into the third period.
But Kaleta’s first regular-season goal since Dec. 27, a backhander from the left circle off a Gerbe feed, put the Sabres up 3-2 at 14:08.
“It all started early with my linemates getting in there,” Kaleta said. “I credit that goal to Gerbs and Goose. They did all the work. I was just lucky enough to finish it.”
Pominville’s power-play score at 17:36 cemented the win – and Enroth’s speech material.