Is Goaltending the Buffalo Sabres’ Most Consistent Position?

There hasn’t been a whole lot to get excited about so far regarding the Buffalo Sabres 2014-2015 season. The club again finds itself at the bottom of the NHL with a current record of 4-13-2. Buffalo’s ten points are the worst total in the league and the club has played two more games than the second-worst Carolina Hurricanes who sit in twenty-ninth place with thirteen points.

Despite this lowly position in the NHL standings, the Sabres aren’t disappointing some fans who are rooting for another last place finish. A last place finish could result in Buffalo being able to draft one of the top forwards in this year’s NHL Entry Draft in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. While enduring a second consecutive season of this low caliber is difficult, many fans feel that things will begin to change in Buffalo if the club can land one of these elite prospects.

[See Also: What Kind of Sabres Fan Are You? Part III: The ‘Tank for McEichel’ Philosophy]

For other Sabres fans, many games have been tough to watch as the club could do the unthinkable and finish lower in some statistical categories than it did last season. Some recent examples of difficult games to watch include the October 28th 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs where the Sabres amassed a total of ten shots, November 8th’s 6-1 blowout at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins and November 11th’s game against the St. Louis Blues where Buffalo lost by the same 6-1 score. While the recent 6-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs gave Sabres fans something to be excited about, this may amount to only a flash in the pan given the club’s performance so far this season.

While times are tough these days in Sabreland, especially on offense, there is one facet of the team that has been somewhat encouraging. This aspect of the club’s current roster is the Buffalo Sabres’ goaltending. Now don’t get me wrong, this team is playing at historically bad levels. Among the chaos, Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth are quietly finding some consistency on a team that is struggling in most facets of their game.

Now Enroth & Neuvirth have had a few subpar performances this season and their win totals leave much more to be desired. However, a lot of this is not the result of poor goaltending but rather a byproduct of a historically bad offense. The lethargic Sabres offense has scored only twenty-eight goals in nineteen games – the lowest goal total in the NHL.

The Sabres’ current average goals scored per game of 1.47 is lower than last year when the club had a historically bad final result in this statistic. The play of Enroth & Neuvirth, aside from a few subpar performances, has been good enough to provide Buffalo with an opportunity to win and on the 2014-2015 edition of the Sabres, this is a noteworthy achievement.

Also, consider this, Buffalo has allowed an average of 36.9 shots per game which is the highest average in the NHL. This statistic is indicative of the fact that that Neuvirth and Enroth have been under siege at a nearly game after game pace. Again there have been some off games from the Sabres’ goaltenders along the way but on the whole, Buffalo’s goaltending has arguably been the most consistent position in Sabreland this season. Here is a look at the hockey careers of Sabres’ goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth.

 

 

Home-Grown Talent: Jhonas Enroth

After spending a few seasons as Ryan Miller’s backup, Jhonas Enroth now has the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Buffalo Sabres. Enroth is a former second round pick of the Sabres. The club selected him with the forty-sixth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Prior to being drafted by the Sabres, Enroth played in Sweden in the junior leagues for the Sodertalje hockey club. According to EliteProspects.com, during the 2005-2006 season Enroth played thirty-nine games for Södertälje. He posted a .922 save percentage and a 2.17 GAA. Enroth’s strong play was noticed by the Sabres who decided to draft the youngster into their system.

Enroth went through the Sabres’ development system by spending time in the AHL with the Sabres’ former affiliate, the Portland Pirates. In three AHL seasons with Portland, Enroth appeared in one hundred forty-seven games and amassed seventy-four wins. During that span he posted some respectable numbers. He tallied a .915 save percentage and a 2.64 GAA in his AHL career.

At the NHL level, Enroth’s numbers are comparable to the stats he posted in other leagues during his earlier hockey career. He has played in ninety-one NHL games and recorded twenty-six wins. Over his NHL career, Enroth has a 2.87 GAA and a .911 save percentage. Despite the lackluster play by the Sabres last season and so far this season, Enroth managed to finish last season above a .910 save percentage and he has nearly reached this number with a .900 save percentage so far this season.

His numbers in the NHL are not at the top of the league but they have been consistent. Enroth has played well enough to give his team a chance to win. As the Sabres continue to rebuild other facets of the organization, Enroth’s numbers will improve with more consistency from the team in front of him.

 

 

A New Beginning for Michal Neuvirth

Neuvirth found his way to Buffalo after the trade deadline last season. Before that, Neuvirth was a member of the Washington Capitals. He hit a rough patch in Washington last season and he was given the opportunity to rekindle his NHL career in Buffalo.

He began his hockey career playing in his native Czech Republic. Neuvirth played in the Czech Republic Jr. League for HC Sparta Praha Jr. According to Hockey-Reference.com, in two seasons Neuvirth appeared in fifty-two games in which he posted a 2.03 GAA and notched six shutouts.

Neuvirth was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft – this was the same draft in which Jhonas Enroth was selected by the Sabres. Washington took Neuvirth in the second round with the thirty-fourth overall pick. He was taken just before the Sabres selected Enroth who was selected a little later in the second round.

After he was selected by Washington, Neuvirth spent some time playing in the OHL for the Plymouth Whalers, Windsor Spitfires, and the Oshawa Generals. Neuvirth found some success in the OHL where he appeared in seventy-four games and won forty-three of them. Neuvirth had a career GAA of 2.69 and a .922 save percentage. He won an OHL championship during the 2006-2007 season with the Plymouth Whalers.

Neuvirth then spent time with Washington’s AHL affiliate the Hershey Bears. He won two Calder Cup Championships with the Bears during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons. During his AHL career, Neuvirth posted respectable numbers including twenty-four wins, a 2.45 GAA and a .916 save percentage.

Before long, Neuvirth’s play elevated him to the Washington Capitals roster and he would spend parts of six seasons with the Caps. He played his first game for the club during the 2008-2009 season. Neuvirth’s most productive season came during the 2010-2011 season where he won twenty-seven games, posted a 2.45 GAA and a .914 save percentage.

The Sabres acquired Neuvirth along with Rotislav Klesla from Washington in exchange for Jaroslav Halak and a third round draft pick in 2015. Neuvirth has made nine starts for the Sabres this season with a 2.96 GAA and a .918 save percentage. For his career, Neuvirth has appeared in one hundred forty-five games, has sixty-two wins, a 2.69 GAA, and a career .912 save percentage.

 

 

Sabreland Final Thoughts

Buffalo is on pace for a second consecutive last place finish as the team pushes through an organizational rebuilding process. Despite the lack of success so far this year, Buffalo’s goaltenders have prevented a bad situation from becoming worse.

The goaltending for Buffalo has arguably been the most consistent aspect of the Sabres’ game so far this season. While there have been some subpar performances, on the whole the goaltending duo of Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth have played well enough to give the Sabres a chance to win on most nights.

After the dust settled in Sabreland after Ryan Miller was dealt to the St. Louis Blues, many wondered who would replace him. Enroth and Neuvirth have played relatively well despite what is going on on front of them. Time will tell if one of these goaltenders can take the lead in carving out a role in Buffalo.

Based on the current state of affairs in Sabreland, there should be no shortage of opportunities for Neuvirth and Enroth going forward to showcase their skills. With a struggling team in front of them yielding more than thirty-six shots against per game, Neuvirth and Enroth have had their hands full. Both Neuvirth and Enroth will have ample opportunity to emerge from the ashes of what appears to be another difficult season and become a central figure in the club’s post-rebuild future.