Last night, the Buffalo Sabres lost to the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a shootout. Instead of Ryan Miller in goal, it was Jhonas Enroth. The shootout loss drops Enroth’s record to 1-8-4 on the season and starts to raise some serious questions as to whether or not Enroth has a future in Buffalo. This all comes as new general manager Tim Murray has to decide whether or not the Sabres will make a serious push to keep elite goaltender Ryan Miller on the Sabres’ roster.
Enroth supporters will argue that the Sabres only average 1.74 goals for per game, and it is hard for any goalie to have a chance at winning games when the team in front of him cannot score. There may be some validity to that argument. Enroth has a .916 save percentage and a 2.46 goals against average. He has faced 391 shots and has turned away 358 of them. That means that Enroth has only given up 33 goals against in 14 starts. In all fairness to him, those kinds of stats should be able to get an NHL goalie more than one win.
The detractors will point out that Enroth had four shots hit goalposts in the loss last night, and that should indicate he is getting beat on shots a lot more than the stats lead on. But the people who say that are the people who do not understand the fundamentals of goaltending. When a puck hits a goalpost, it means that the goalie had sufficiently protected the open net to prevent the puck from getting past him and creating a goal. The fact that it hit the goalpost is really no different than the puck getting past the goalie and hitting the boards behind the net. That is why a puck hitting a goalpost is not considered a shot on goal.
The real problem in Buffalo is lack of goal scoring. The Sabres are averaging 1.74 goals for and 2.79 goals against per game. By way of comparison, the highest scoring team in the league is the Chicago Blackhawks who average 3.67 goals for game, more than twice Buffalo’s output. The league average for goal scoring per game is 2.77 goals. If the Sabres could just elevate themselves to producing the league average they would be putting themselves in a better position to win more games and take pressure off of both goaltenders.
For fans, the hockey goalie and the football quarterback are easy targets to blame. But in many cases, it is the teams around the goalies and quarterbacks that determine the outcomes of games. In Buffalo, fans are wondering if Enroth might be the team’s No. 1 goalie after the trade deadline. In reality, if the team does not start scoring any goals then it will not matter who is in net. It is all part of rebuilding, and that long, painful process that has just begun for the Sabres.