Having two capable goaltenders is never a bad problem, unless you’re in Vancouver. Finding a capable backup for Ryan Miller has been a struggle that goes back to Martin Biron’s trade during the 2006-07 season.
It has been well documented that Jhonas Enroth’s arrival late last year was to mark the end of the second guessing that came with giving Ryan Miller a rest. The new challenge will be finding Enroth the right amount of playing time behind Miller.
The 20-25 games neighborhood seemed to be the right number of starts to allocate for Enroth. That would leave Miller with roughly 60 games and conceivably provide him plenty of rest heading into the postseason. The inherent problem is that it is awfully easy to pencil in starts in August only to have the entire plan blown to hell once the season gets rolling.
Obviously Ruff has a plan to utilize Enroth and he is going to stick with that plan. This is a refreshing development, especially considering the agony that is watching Miller struggle through 30-straight starts without a considerable rest.
Miller threw the first monkey wrench into the works last week after turning in two brilliant performances against Montreal and Florida. He was given a third-straight start against Tampa Bay on Saturday, largely because he had stopped 62 of the previous 63 pucks directed his way. Enroth had previously been expected to get the start in Tampa, partly as a reward for a strong outing in Pittsburgh and partly to provide another early respite for Miller.
There is no reason why Ryan Miller should have been rested on Saturday. That should be made clear. He was spectacular in his previous two starts and you never walk away from the table when you’re on a heater. Ruff made the right choice in sticking with his starter and it paid off. Miller turned aside another 23 shots and gave his team a chance to win, despite a generally poor effort from the other 18 players.
Ruff is now faced with a slight dilemma regarding his goaltenders for the next three games. This begins against the same Lightning team that shutout the Sabres on Saturday.
Enroth is nearing a point of being on the shelf for too long and is deserving of another start. The one key for the year will be to keep Enroth playing at a fairly regular clip. Of course, Miller is still exhibiting many signs that he is on a major hot streak, something you wouldn’t want to disrupt by sitting him down for a night.
In terms of scheduling, the Sabres have the second half of their home-and-home with Tampa Bay, followed by visits from the lowly Blue Jackets (Thursday) and the Panthers (Saturday). Next week brings Philadelphia (an obvious start for Miller) and Calgary, but those two games don’t factor into the immediate schedule just yet.
There are two ways to approach the upcoming games: stick with the hot hand (Miller) for one more game before giving Enroth the start against the Western Conference team who has seriously stumbled out of the gates; or get Miller a night off now and let him rest for what should be an easy start on Thursday. Miller plays on Saturday in either scenario.
The best approach to the week will probably be to put Enroth in on Tuesday and follow with Miller for the next three games (Columbus, Florida, Philadelphia). Not only will that provide for a potential start for Enroth against a Western Conference foe (Calgary) ,but it puts the best roster on the ice for a game Buffalo will be fully expected to win against Columbus – a team that the Sabres have struggled with historically.
Really, there is no wrong way to go about this, which is not a luxury many teams have. Ultimately Miller will get the lion’s share of the games that is inevitable. What is important is that Enroth be used strategically and allow Miller to stay fresh for the duration of the season. It certainly seems as if that is the strategy the coaching staff has adopted.