Sabres enter season with tandem in goal

neuvirthA new season is upon us and there’s a topic that this community has not had to discuss in years. But with a rebuild in process, there are question marks in the back end that will need to be figured out.

It appears as if the Sabres could have a goaltending controversy, or tandem, beginning for the first time in a while. Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth each enter the season with intentions of being the starting goaltender.

No more Ryan Miller (or Jaroslav Halak). With those two gone, the organization has given an opportunity for someone to step up and take control in the crease. 

While it is possible that Enroth and Neuvirth could split time evenly throughout the entire season, both are at the stage where true potential needs to show. 

If you take a look, the two goaltenders are at very similar points in their careers:

Jhonas Enroth
Michal Neuvirth
Drafted:2006 (46th overall)2006 (34th overall)
Contract:2 years2 years
Cap hit:$1.25M$2.5M
Games played:81136

At first glance, Neuvirth may seem to be more ready to take on the starting job. He has more experience, a winning record and even a higher cap hit. Buffalo fans only got to see a glimpse of him as he lost a pair of regular season games at the tail end of last year. Not only is Neuvirth the bigger goaltender, but he has posted a winning record over his 136 games in the NHL, recording 59 victories, or approximately 43 percent of his starts.

Despite Enroth’s small stature, the Swedish goaltender is able to do his job well and was chosen by the team as the unsung hero last season.There are all kinds of factors that can come into play when comparing players and stats, but in this case, some are too big to overlook. Enroth has played for an organization that has struggled on both ends of the ice, while Neuvirth has benefited from a potent Capitals’ offense. 

Enroth has won 25 games, about 30 percent of those he’s played in. Obviously, that’s a number you’d like to see go up, but keep in mind that 12 losses came in overtime and three by way of the shootout. Still, Enroth has been able to post a save percentage of .913, which is just .02 shy of what Miller had done throughout his career.

“We’re setting up a culture here where people are going to have to start earning jobs instead of just, ‘OK, Jhonas you’re the guy’ or, ‘You got it,’” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We got to make it competitive. We have to change the culture. When you rebuild a program, it’s setting a structure in place, setting a foundation.”

Enroth has been in the system since 2006, when he was drafted 46th overall. at the First Niagara Center on November 11, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.After the end of last season, Enroth stated that he believed he would become the team’s top goaltender come October. 

“If you don’t call this a chance, then I don’t know what a chance is,” Enroth said after a game last March. “I got to believe in myself so I’m a true believer I can be a No. 1 guy here.”

When Neuvirth came to Buffalo in March, he lost both games he started, but his numbers were still up. After getting pelted with 98 shots over six periods of play, Neuvirth only allowed five goals, but took a loss in each game. 

Just like Enroth, the former Caps’ goaltender believes it’s his time to shine.

”I put the last two years behind me, and now I’m looking forward to this season,” Neuvirth said. ”I think we’re going to push each other. I feel like we’re going to be a good tandem.”

We’re going to be keeping track of some detailed stats for Enroth and Neuvirth this year. You can take a look at the goaltending page here and bookmark it to see how they’re doing as the season progresses. How do you think this goaltending tandem plays out? 

Kevin Freiheit
Kevin Freiheit
I founded Buffalo Hockey Central in 2008 and have poured hours and hours into this site. Luckily, we have a great team of writers and designers who have helped keep this up and running despite a ton of out-of-pocket costs. We do this because we enjoy it, and we're desperate to see the Sabres win the Cup someday, but they have to make the playoffs first.
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