Backing up, sitting for possibly a week, 10 days or more isn’t normal for Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth. The Swede has played 55, 49 and 58 games since he came to North America in 2008. Enroth became an elite prospect and graduated to the NHL under a heavy workload.
Now, in what should be his first full NHL season, Enroth might only play 20 times behind franchise netminder Ryan Miller.
Sure, Enroth dazzled in 2010-11, winning nine of his 14 games with the Sabres, including some critical late-season tilts. But the 23-year-old thrived
in March and April with Miller sidelined and some steady work guaranteed.
Not even Enroth is sure how he’ll respond to being a No. 2 for the first time.
“I don’t know really how it’s going to be,” Enroth acknowledged Saturday morning prior to the Sabres’ 3-2 exhibition win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the First Niagara Center. “I got a little taste of it last year, but it was just two, three weeks or so. I don’t know how it’s going to be over a longer period like that.”
Enroth looked sharp against the Leafs, making 19 saves as the Sabres improved to 4-0. Drew Stafford, Christian Ehrhoff and Luke Adam all scored power-play goals.
In the past, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been criticized for his handling of backup goalies. He’s cognizant now he has to find Enroth, a future starter, consistent work.
“I think sometimes the coach’s approach (and) the fear of putting a backup in has to change,” Ruff said earlier in training camp. “He’s going to need his time. Maybe, even in a light schedule, Jhonas will play some games. But at the same time, he needs to play well.”
Enroth added: “That’s how it is in this business when you’re a backup goalie. You have to take your chances and be sharp when you get your chance.”
If Enroth plays well, Ruff can possibly reward him with more work.
“It’s easy to get him in if you’re playing four games in six nights,” Ruff said. “But sometimes, especially early on, it’s lighter. I’m going to make decisions that maybe, if he’s playing really well, we’ll keep him going (regardless) of the fact we have Ryan.”
Enroth is already the Sabres’ most capable backup since Martin Biron left in 2007. While teammates respected Jocelyn Thibault and Patrick Lalime, Ruff showed zero confidence in the veterans, letting them go months between starts.
Incredibly, Enroth’s nine wins equaled Lalime’s total over three seasons. By last winter, Enroth was being recalled from Portland when Miller needed a breather.
“I think he was able to succeed initially here because he was dropped in, there (were) no expectations,” Ruff said. “He got to play night after night and (later on) he knew he was playing. He got himself in a real good rhythm.”
Before his first exhibition start Saturday, Ruff had been trying to get Enroth in a different kind of rhythm, giving him two relief appearances. Enroth performed well, stopping 23 of 24 shots in 58 minutes of action.
Enroth said he’s more comfortable this camp. Last year taught him he belonged. He hired a trainer, Carl-Johan Björk, a former NFL practice squad player, for the first time this summer. Enroth understands fewer games means he’ll have to change his preparation.
“I’m just going to work harder in practices, stay out there little bit longer on game days and be there for the shooters pretty much every day,” Enroth said.
For Miller, having a youngster in the fold to push him is exciting.
“Jhonas is hungry and he’s working hard and he’s ready to learn and ready to play,” Miller said. “I think it’s going to be beneficial to both of us. … We both can learn a lot from each other because he brings a different perspective than I do. … I want him to have a quick learning curve and be ready to roll.”
Notes: Sabres center Derek Roy, who left Friday’s 2-1 win in Toronto with a shoulder injury, is day-to-day. Ruff expects him to be back sometime this week. “He’s OK,” Ruff said. “He may miss a few days but nothing serious.” Roy said he was hurt from an opponent’s stick on a faceoff. “It feels pretty good right now,” Roy said. … Defenseman Jordan Leopold served as captain; wingers Patrick Kaleta and Thomas Vanek were assistants. … The Sabres play tonight in Columbus. … Saturday’s game was a sellout of 18,690 fans.