Friday, September 26, 2014

Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster--The goalies

Reprinted with permission from

Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth made sure he let the coaching staff know that he's ready for the challenge that lies before him. Enroth shut out the Carolina Hurricanes in his first preseason action. He tracked the puck well, moved well and had the puck sticking to him throughout the night. It should also serve notice to Michal Neuvirth, the Sabres other goalie, that he better bring his A-game.

Enroth is a 2006 draft pick, chosen in the second round with the 46th pick overall. He and Mike Weber (57th) are the only two players to make it from that Buffalo draft class.

It's been a long road for Enroth to get to this point. After getting drafted he spent two more years in his native Sweden then began his North American pro career with the Portland Pirates, who were then the AHL affiliate of Buffalo. In 58 games that season he went 26-23-6 with a 2.75 gaa and a .910 sv%. The Pirates made it into the playoffs that year but were bounced in the first round.

The following year he would get better lowering his goals against average to 2.37 and upping his save percentage to .919 while finishing 20-17-2. The Pirates would make the Calder Cup playoffs once again and, once again, get bounced in the first round.

Enroth made his NHL debut that season as well. The November 7, 2009 game at Boston was indicative of what the Sabres goaltenders had been seeing for years and what they would be seeing for years to come. Buffalo came into the game scoring less than two goals per game. They would match that total versus the Bruins only after they staked them to 3-0 and 4-1 leads. The Sabres went 0-7 on the powerplay while giving up six shots including a breakaway to former Sabre Daniel Paille which Enroth stopped, and a point-blank opportunity on turnover to Patrice Bergeron, which he also stopped.

To say that he deserved a better fate in that game, as well as many others over the next two seasons would be an understatement. But it would also be true to say that his fate was eventually tied to teams who took advantage of his one major flaw, his size.

At 5' 10" 166 lbs. Enroth does not cover much of the net and when he goes butterfly there are gaping holes. He does a masterful job positioning himself and cutting down the angles to help cover more of the net, plus he has a pretty quick glove, but sometimes it's not enough. With 81 games played in the NHL, teams have plenty of tape on him and are well aware of his tendencies as well as his weaknesses.

A big help to Enroth heading into this season is having Arturs Irbe as his goaltending coach. Irbe was part of a mass assistant coach hiring done this summer by head coach Ted Nolan. Nolan knows Irbe well from their days together coaching the Latvian National Team.

Irbe knows a little something about being a small NHL goalie. He stood 5' 8" and weighed 188 lbs. yet still had a long, 12-year NHL career that included backstopping the 1993-94 San Jose' Sharks to their first-ever appearance in the playoffs. It was an historic year for the goalie known as "Archie" as he played in 74 games for an NHL record 4412 minutes. The Sharks then proceeded to take down the mighty Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs that year as Irbe stopped 28 shots in a game-seven, 3-2 victory.

He also was in net when the Carolina Hurricanes made their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2001-02. Detroit would enact revenge on Irbe as the Wings took down the 'Canes in five games. The goalie for Detroit was none other than Sabres legend Dominik Hasek. "The Dominator" had demanded that the Sabres trade him to a contender after the 2000-01 season and on July 1, 2001, Hasek was traded to the Wings for Slava Kozlov (who hated the trade and hated his brief time in Buffalo) and a first round pick in 2002 (later traded to the Atlanta Thrashers.)

Buffalo's other goalie heading into this season also has direct connections to Irbe.

Neuvirth, like Enroth, was a 2nd round pick in the 2006 Draft. He was taken high in the round with the 34th pick by the Washington Capitals. Irbe had been the Caps goaltending coach from 2009-11 when Neuvirth was making his NHL debut.

Washington had a three-headed beast in goal with Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov being joined by Braden Holtby. But it was Neuvirth would end up with the goaltending spot for the playoffs. He helped Washington make it to the second round in 2011 where they would be swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Irbe would end up leaving the Captials after that season.

Katie Carrera, who covers the Caps for the Washington Post, talked about Irbe's contributions to the goalies. She credited Irbe with "helping the organization’s trio of young goaltenders make the transition to the NHL. This past year (2010-11,) the Capitals became the first team in league history with three goaltenders age 22 or younger with 10 or more wins in a season, with Irbe credited for the development of all three players."

On a cautionary side, questions were raised at Irbe's departure and to his relationship with the trio. Slava Malamud, also of the Post, later that summer wrote, "It should also be noted that Irbe left among rumors that both of his charges, [Michal] Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, were less than happy with his coaching approach."

All of this adds up to some intriguing dynamics heading into the season.

Enroth is considered part of the previous regime. Neuvirth was traded for by new GM, Tim Murray who said about Neuvirth's time in Washington, "For whatever reason, he’s a backup [in Washington] and he’s just not as important as he wants to be,” Murray said, per the Buffalo News. “I think when he gets to feel some love again or whatever you want to call it and has an opportunity, then he can get his game back.”

Then you have Murray's affinity for bigger goalies, of which Enroth is not. At 6' 1", 209 lbs., Neuvirth is more average-size than big, but he dwarfs Enroth at 5' 8", 166 lbs.

It's Irbe's job to balances things out and he may be able to do that until...

Matt Hackett returns.

Hackett is rehabbing from a tough ACL injury incurred while playing with the Sabres last season and just how he fits into the equation this season is yet to be determined. His original return date was said to be sometime in December or even stretching into the new year, but now it looks like a possible late November/early December date as he's already begun skating.

Although Hackett still has a lot to prove, he has no where to go in the organization right now. The Rochester Americans look to have Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov as their one-two punch in net, and even if Murray wanted to send Hackett down, he'll need to clear waivers to be sent down. We're not sure whether Murray would risk him getting claimed considering he just signed the 6'2" 172 lb. goalie to a 1yr./$715k contract extension in July.

And so it goes.

This will be the first full season in nine years without #1 goalie Ryan Miller in net for the Buffalo Sabres and the team may end up going full circle this season if they roll with three goalies. When Miller first hit the NHL back in 2003-04, the Sabres had three goalies vying for the top spot--Miller, Marty Biron and Mika Noronen.

Let the goalie roulette wheel spin.

Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson/Zemgus Girgensons/Brian Gionta
Brian Flynn/Marcus Foligno/Chris Stewart
Nicolas Deslauriers/Cody McCormick/Patrick Kaleta

LHD, Josh Gorges/RHD, Tyler Myers
Andre Benoit/Rasmus Ristolainen
Andrej Meszaros/Mark Pysyk

Goalies--Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth

Trivia about Irbe, via

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