It would appear that two games behind the bench is all that Ted Nolan needed to make some concrete decisions on the Sabres roster. A number of changes in the forward lines accompanied Nolan tipping his hand regarding the goaltenders after last weekend’s home-and-home with Toronto.
After Ryan Miller turned aside 33 shots in a 3-1 victory, Jhonas Enroth was victimized by screens and deflections in a 4-2 loss that saw the young Swede only make 22 saves. The decision to run with Miller was likely made not only due to his strong performance on Friday, but the play he has exhibited over his last five starts.
Miller is 3-2-0 over his last five with two of the three wins coming in a shootout with a .928 save percentage and a 3.12 GAA. The disparity in his basic numbers has been a theme of the entire year as the ridiculous number of shots and chance the Sabres have been giving have resulted in numerous goals, but as a vehicle to balloon Miller’s save percentage as well.
Make no mistake, Miller was phenomenal against the Kings and Maple Leafs and was equally impressive against the Sharks despite allowing four goals. While he was simply average against the Ducks – and the results of that game reflect as much – his numbers remain impressive despite sitting out the final 20 minutes of that contest.
A great many Sabres fans are quick to point to Miller’s goals against average as evidence of how average and overrated of a goaltender he has been over his career. The box score scouts would be spot on as it pertains to this season. He has been allowing more goals than he ever has in his career, but the eye test yields much different results. Short of a handful of occasions, Miller has been active but controlled in the crease. He has managed the game very well this season and has managed to keep an overmatched team competitive far longer than they have deserved. For a team looking to establish some identity and consistency, letting him pull the wagon will serve Nolan well.
What shouldn’t be forgotten is the play of Enroth, however. He has been equally steady as Miller and even stole a game in Florida for his struggling club. His last three starts haven’t been his best effort – although the loss in LA is hardly on him. Enroth certainly deserves his time and the decision to allow Miller to take the reins is certainly motivated by the play of Buffalo’s veteran, not Enroth.
Against Toronto Enroth some similar traits that were exposed against the Ducks. While he wasn’t a sieve by any stretch, he simply didn’t provide the extra edge necessary to help keep the Sabres competitive. Comparing that to the role Miller has played over the last two weeks, and it should be an easy decision to come to for most fans or coaches.
Of course, given the collective hockey IQ in Buffalo, I won’t be surprised when fans call for Miller’s head after his next loss.
- Keep in mind that the Sabres can easily transition to a basic timeshare if necessary. While that risks keeping either goaltender from building a groove, it would provide a solid schedule that would allow both goaltenders to see quality minutes.
- I love the thought on sending Mikhail Grigorenko, Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov back to Rochester and junior. Ideally this will give these guys quality playing time is of utmost importance at this point. Why it wasn’t done sooner seems to be the only perplexing part of this move.
- Zadorov, specifically, was becoming a very curious case as there didn’t seem to be very much urgency between Regier and Rolston as to what they wanted to do with him. Why they didn’t let him run out to nine games and simply send him back is beyond me. He missed a valuable opportunity to play big minutes in London because of it.
- As for Larsson and Ristolainen, they will both benefit greatly from their time in Rochester. They should each see big minutes in significant roles that will allow them to grow far quicker than in the roles they saw in Buffalo. I am curious to see how each fits in as there are a number of players having success in Rochester as this pair are set to arrive.
- The Grigorenko thing had really gotten out of hand before this conclusion. He saw his time diminish shortly after scoring twice against the Ducks, he never managed to find a regular role on a top line and appeared to be lacking in the ever popular “compete level” along with skating. A pair of weeks in Rochester should do him well before making a return to Quebec or Buffalo to continue his season.