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Goalie Conundrum

Enroth's return to Portland raises some eyebrows

Pay attention, everyone. Did we all notice that the Buffalo Sabres’ dive into irrelevance was halted just after prospect goaltender Jhonas Enroth arrived from the AHL Portland Pirates to help save the day?

Enroth’s 2010 debut as a Sabre wasn’t auspicious. With Ryan Miller out with a lower body injury and backup netminder Patrick Lalime fighting a bug, Enroth was pressed into service on November 3 against the Boston Bruins. The results weren’t pretty. The Sabres allowed two shorthanded goals in the first period, played one of their most dismal games in years, and lost the laugher by a 5-2 score. Enroth was pulled after the first period. “Guys were racing to get off the ice,” fumed Coach Lindy Ruff after he saw his team lose at home yet again.

But three nights later in Toronto, Enroth again got the call, and this time it was a much different outcome. Making several spectacular saves, Enroth and the Sabres took the Leafs all the way to a shootout. He then stoned Kris Versteeg, Phil Kessel, Clarke MacArthur, and Tomas Kaberle in a five-round marathon, finally won by Buffalo when Tyler Ennis scored to end the game. The team celebrated as if they had just won a playoff series. And Enroth got most of the accolades. “Jo Jo was terrific,” said Jochen Hecht. “He really led this team and deserves much of the credit.” Referring to his young players Enroth and Tyler Ennis, Ruff said, “They both played well. The team needs to enjoy this one for a while.”

A few nights later in New Jersey, it was the same result: Enroth in goal, and a shootout win, thanks to Ilya “$100 Million Man” Kovalchuk losing the puck just several feet in front of Enroth, which surely made it into several blooper highlight reels.

However, despite four games, a 2-1-1 record, a .343 goals against average, .876 save percentage, and a much-needed shot in the arm from the team’s goalie of the future, with Miller back and playing again, Enroth got shipped back to the minors.

So what gives?

“Enroth needs to be playing again,” said Ruff, the day after his goalie headed back to Portland. Despite Patrick Lalime’s continuing erratic play and the organization’s seeming lack of confidence in him, he is still the designated backup.

Ryan Miller has consistently valued Lalime’s fellowship and support as his backup partner, yet had this to say about Enroth this past weekend: “It was good to see him get something positive going for himself, and for the team. He’s making good strides as he moves forward in his career, and we’re happy he comes in and gets some points. It is a big team effort as we go through a season and for someone to step in…we have faith for anyone who steps in and plays, especially in goal. Whether it’s me, Patty, or Jhonas, it’s good.”

Clearly, the Sabres don’t want to be in the position of maintaining three goaltenders on the big club’s roster. And although news is off most Sabres fans’ radar screens, the team did sign their other minor league netminder, Buffalo native David Leggio, to a two-way contract this past week. Leggio has actually outshined Enroth down in Portland so far this season, posting a 7-1 record and a .917 save percentage in his first eight games with the minor league team. One has to think that Leggio’s new presence on the Sabres’ depth chart does not bode well for Lalime’s future here.

As for Enroth? “If we need him we can always bring him back,” Ruff said when asked if the team shouldn’t just keep Enroth here in Buffalo. “He’s gaining ground. He’s played well for us. At the same time there’s some areas of his game he needs to work on. But he also helped us get five out of six points.”

Taro Sez…

• Bob Rich, a soccer mogul? Yessiree, our owner of the AAA Buffalo Bisons has apparently bought himself a professional soccer team in England. No, not Arsenal or Chelsea or our favorite Wolverhampton Wolves in the Premier League. Rich now owns the Bedlington Terriers, a club playing at the ninth tier of English soccer, in a town that is home to his ancestral roots. First item on the agenda? He shipped over a new scoreboard.

• World Juniors ticket update: 11,000 all-session passes have already been sold, and this promises to be the hottest ticket in town. Now fans wanting to get the opportunity to see at least one day of the event will finally be able to buy day passes. Running from $80 to $300 for the gold/bronze games on January 5, the pass allows access to all the events of the day, which includes tripleheaders on three of the days. The presale to season ticket holders is now underway, with general sale starting November 26.

• Hopefully “ex” bad boy Zack Kassian, the Sabres first-round draft pick in 2009, has also signed a three-year entry level contract with the Sabres this month. Kassian is playing his fourth year of junior hockey, and is tearing up the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires.

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