Jhonas Enroth‘s three years with the Buffalo Sabres can be likened to a Jeckyll and Hyde parallel or a split personality of sorts.
At times, he is ultra confident and unbeatable in net, making even the most unlikely of saves look routine. But just when he looks to be finding his niche within the crease, a few letdowns ensue and bring questions as to whether or not the 24-year-old can maintain a strong level of play in a full season.
In 2011, Enroth endeared himself to the Buffalo loyalists, filling in for Ryan Miller who was on the disabled list while the Sabres were pressing for a playoff spot. Seven of eight points were attained in a four-game march and the Swede had the honor of dethroning ‘The King’, Henrik Lundqvist, – who happened to be Enroth’s childhood idol – while gaining his first National Hockey League shutout against the New York Rangers.
With a 7-0-1 record in his eight most recent starts, he proved to be up to the task of handling the pressure and gave his club that last exertion necessary to enter the postseason. Many netminders thrust into such heavily weighted circumstances would stumble due to inexperience or panic. But Enroth has a knack for coping with these vital moments and does not get rattled mentally; it is always one of the marks of a top-notch goaltender.
Unexpectedly, the events that unfolded the following season were ghastly for Buffalo and Miller’s understudy. The Sabres dug themselves into another hole and although they came close to escaping with a playoff berth as they did the previous year, the team eventually ran out of steam. Having endured defeat in ten consecutive games and replaced Miller in two blowout losses, Enroth was mired in a slump that would extend into the compressed season which was to begin in January of 2013.
It took three more unsatisfying results, but Enroth finally picked up a victory to boost his morale and ended the campaign with a decent 4-4-1 record. He took it upon himself, however, to use the international stage to bring his game back to prominence.
At the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Championships, players can suit up for their country proudly and consign their professional club’s playoff troubles to oblivion. Or they might be best served to use it as motivation.
Enroth represented Sweden’s national team, Tre Kronor, and did the latter. Aside from a 3-0 loss to Canada, he was sensational throughout the tournament, using his fantastic reflexes and agility to stop almost everything that was thrown at him.
In the quarterfinals, he outplayed Mike Smith and led Sweden to a shootout win that cost the Canadians a chance at any medal. With the likes of Claude Giroux, Jordan Eberle and Matt Duchene headed his way, Enroth kept a cool head and conceded just once.
By then he was in a rhythm that nobody was about to mess with as he completely closed down Finland in a 3-0 semifinal triumph and let one get past him in the finals versus Switzerland.
Overall, Enroth was 5-1 with an astounding .956 save percentage, 1.15 goals against average and two shutouts for good measure. Unsurprisingly, he was believed to be the best goalkeeper of the tournament and Sweden became the first home team to win the title since the Soviet Union did so in 1986.
With Ryan Miller’s contract winding down, the advertised selling of his condo in Buffalo and the temperament with which he spoke in post-game interviews this past season, many believe he is searching for a new club to call his own. If that is true, general manager Darcy Regier would be wise to unload the goaltender in a trade, as the return would clearly be significant for a goaltender of his caliber.
As a team, the Sabres have progressed only as far as Miller would propel them since the 2005 lockout. One might wonder how much they will drop off without his presence at the back and whether the defenders will be bailed out as constantly.
Years ago, supporters of the Buffalo Sabres would have cringed at the thought of losing their franchise goaltender who is one of the elites at his position.
Based on the evidence Jhonas Enroth provided at the World Championships, he is now prepared to supplant Miller when that day comes.