I met with some friends at the arena in the half-hour or so between the end of my workday and the start of last night's game. Having been talking about Ryan Miller's injury for a couple of hours, I was ready for them with this question:
Which is more likely -- A) the Sabres miss the playoffs because of a marked decline in goaltending attributable to Miller's absence, or B) Jhonas Enroth plays so well in Miller's absence that the Sabres make the playoffs and a large portion of fans want him to keep playing in the postseason?
Everybody in my group said B.
The Sabres met expectations in last night's gripping 1-0 win over the Rangers, and Enroth of course exceeded them. Should we have been surprised? He's played in important games down the stretch and never once disappointed. We've heard Darcy Regier tell us that in the AHL playoffs two seasons ago Enroth was superior to Tuukka Rask, the very young goalie that took over from the reigning Vezina winner in Boston and promptly knocked the division-winning Sabres out of last year's playoffs in one round. (Hey, the Sabres have the reigning Vezina winner. Interesting.)
We've learned that Enroth's the laid-back type, not inclined to overreact to emotions. We saw that on display last night -- very little wasted motion or energy. Heck, the guy's from Stockholm. Ever known a wacked-out Swede? Compared with Bjorn Borg, Ryan Miller is Gallagher.
There was no doubt that his team would rally around Enroth and be focused last night. Miller's injury made Lindy Ruff's job a piece of cake. Worried that the Sabres would struggle to find their A-game after the Toronto loss? Jar them with news of a Miller injury -- that'll wake 'em up. And it did. While the Sabres did not dominate the Rangers by any measure, they did match New York's intensity and also remained patient against such a stingy team.
I said it the day after Enroth helped the Sabres rally to win in Montreal, a game they trailed 2-0 but eventually won in a 10-round shootout: The pressure is on Miller now. Now fans have a face and a name of a player they can count on to rival Miller's performances, maybe not quite his equal, maybe so, maybe better. Who knows at this point?
Miller, to his credit, responded well. He picked up his game and was stellar until being injured Saturday.
So now what? Miller is a good goalie with plenty of playoff experience. But what is Enroth? Might he be a better goalie with an even-keeled approach that suits playoff hockey perfectly? At the very least, he's healthier and fresher.
How about playing each guy until he loses? Leave Enroth in -- no matter how Miller is feeling -- until the Sabres get beat. If that doesn't happen, what's the problem? Assuming Enroth does lose a game, put Miller in if you can. Then play him until he loses, and so on.
This wouldn't be controversial to me. The Sabres have two good goalies. I say give each of them a chance to win big. Otherwise, you're shorting yourself. And the battle is too long and hard for that.