There's been some debate regarding the Sabres goaltending these days, which has meant one of two things in recent history. Either the backup hasn't played in a month, or the backup has played really well in his last few starts.
For the Buffalo Sabres, the latter is true this time, as Jhonas Enroth has played very well in back-to-back wins over the weekend. That's got some people saying that his recent play means he might keep on starting over Ryan Miller, who many have thought could be on the trade market as soon as this year's draft..
Now, before you get all up in arms about the argument of who should/will start or get traded, let's take a look at some numbers to see if there's any merit behind the rhetoric. Enroth is going well at the moment, he's 4-0-1 in his last five starts with a .958 save percentage. But by taking a look at a larger sample size, we can break things down a bit to see if we can gleam anything useful.
|2012-13||GP||ES Sv%||PP Sv%||SH Sv%||TOT Sv%|
|2011-2012||GP||ES Sv%||PP Sv%||SH Sv%||TOT Sv%|
|2010-11||GP||ES Sv%||PP Sv%||SH Sv%||TOT Sv%|
|2009-10, Miller's Vezina||GP||ES Sv%||PP Sv%||SH Sv%||TOT Sv%|
The first thing that jumped out to me was that, over the past three seasons, Enroth has been the better goalie at even strength, which was surprising to me, while Miller has been better on both sides of the special teams coin. However, after further consideration, I think this bears out when you watch the team play - Miller is more often able to bail his team out of an odd-numbered situation, be it killing penalties or shorthanded breakaways, while Enroth usually needs all five guys on the ice to play his best.
Part of Lindy Ruff's coaching style was relying on his goaltender, specifically Miller, to make the big save when called upon. It allowed his teammates to pinch more often, try to make the fancy play, and the team could afford to give up 35 shots in a game because they've become used to Miller bailing them out, which we've seen (and heard, thanks to RJ's famous "MILLERRRRRRRRR!!" call) more times than I can remember. Enroth, while able to make big saves from time to time (hello, helmet-less save) must rely on that fifth teammate to help him clog things up and keep the crease clear.
But, you argue, you play most of the game five-on-five, so that's a point for Jhonas, right? Yes, it is, but do note that his currently 2nd-in-the-NHL-among-regular-tenders .943 even strength save percentage this season is most likely unsustainable, just as Miller's massive special teams numbers from his Vezina season proved to be a fluke. Enroth's true numbers probably lie somewhere between his 2010-11 and 2009-10 numbers, but that's what a smaller sample size will do to you.
The big advantage that Miller gives you over Enroth is his consistency. If you look at Miller's numbers over the last four years, with the exception of his flukey Vezina special teams numbers, every year is virtually the same, with small variations in special teams, which is to be expected due to the highly chaotic nature of those situations. The dude is a workhorse, recording at least 30 wins for seven straight seasons, and you know exactly what you're going to get from him when he steps out on the ice. In a league where many goalies go from Vezina candidates to backups, and vice versa, that type of reliability cannot be understated.
Enroth, on the other hand, has numbers that show that there may be something special buried in his small frame, specifically his even strength save percentage. However, having only appeared in 50 games over three seasons, handing the keys to him next year - even in a platoon situation - would be risky. Remember, this is the guy who was mired in a long multi-season losing streak before his recent hot streak. He's shown he has talent, but can he bring it every night like you need a starting goaltender to be able to do?
Ron Rolston hasn't said who will start tonight's game as of this posting, but with only five games left, and Miller a known quantity, it would make sense to give Enroth a few more games before the end of the year. This summer, the Sabres' brass will likely face a decision regarding the future of these two goaltenders. Whatever that decision is, the consistent workhorse or the unproven talent, next season will hinge on whether they get it right.