We’re hitting the home stretch. The regular season is almost here and hockey will enrich all of our lives once more.
So far in the off-season, we’ve had questions asked about the Sabres from top to bottom, speculated on just what would happen with Cody Hodgson and his contract, and everything in between.
But with so little time left until the puck drops on the regular season, what do the Sabres look like for 2013/14? Yours truly is here with a comprehensive look. The forwards were Wednesday, Friday the defensemen, and today with the goalies.
Reminder: we’re breaking down the starter and the backup(s) with a scoring scale of 1-5 for each as well as a 1-5 score for the unit as a whole. Let’s get to it.
Like Thomas Vanek, this could be the final go-round for Ryan Miller. In the final year of his contract, he’s a bit older than Vanek (33) but he’s shown himself to consistently be an upper-echelon goalie with a brief stint among the elite thanks to his 2010 Vezina Trophy win.
Miller’s numbers don’t look good from last year: 17-17-5 with a 2.81 GAA and .915 save percentage and early on, his performance was the reason. But as the season carried on, Miller showed a little bit of the Miller of old. As the Sabres continued to struggle to score goals and keep shots away from their net, Miller stood on his head a good chunk of the time, keeping the Sabres in games they had no business being in. This was most definitely a case of the numbers not telling the entire story.
When he’s focused and has a fire lit under him, Miller is capable of being one of the best in the business and carrying this Sabres team on his back. Will he find that motivation in a contract year? Will he find it from all the trade rumors surrounding him since the deadline last season?
If he can play this year as he did down the stretch last year, the Sabres are going to be a tough team to beat. An improved situation defensively will no doubt help him as well, but Miller is going to be the man propping up whatever successes the Sabres find.
A year ago, this spot was a huge question mark.
Jhonas Enroth had a dazzling, if brief, debut in 2010-11, going 9-2-2 and looking like a solid backup option to Miller. At some point, he started to find himself in former coach Lindy Ruff’s doghouse and it was showing on the ice.
Enroth was flat out miserable in his first few starts of 2012-13; so shaky that it seemed conceivable that Ruff would not take Miller out for Enroth again. Ruff was fired in February, enter Ron Rolston, and then the switch flipped.
The compact Swede suddenly looked like a lights out goaltender, standing on his head with regularity. In his final eight starts of the year, he allowed more than two goals just twice and one of those was a three-goal game that went to overtime. He was facing the same number of shots and chances as Miller but he looked like a brand new goaltender, playing with confidence for the first time in a long time.
If the Sabres are getting the Enroth from late last year, this could be one of the best tandems in the league. Enroth was incredible, making things like this a routine:
Enroth is still a bit of an unknown as the sample size from last year is too small to definitively make a statement about him either way, but if he can put together another year like that? Look out. He could spell Miller more often, keeping the latter focused and fresher than the Sabres have seen him in years.
Jhonas Enroth might be the wildcard of the Sabres.
As stated above, Miller is the proven commodity and Enroth is the unknown. If Enroth’s run last year was an aberration and he slips into mediocrity, the Sabres know they can lean on the workhorse Miller.
Should Enroth prove last year wasn’t a fluke, he gives the Sabres something few teams can boast: knowing they can win every night because of their goaltending. Being able to spell Miller and keep him fresh would be a huge thing for the Sabres and likely for Miller as he’s had to carry the team in net for as long as we all can remember.
Simply put: this group has the ability to make the Sabres a team to watch out for.
Ryan is a lead writer for The Hockey Writers as well as editor for Mile High Sticking and co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to discuss all things puck, Bills football, or his hatred of all things Philly.
A long-time (and long-suffering) Buffalo sports fan. Sometimes optimistic, always weary. I write other stuff for a lot of other people.