Who’s the Starter?

The Buffalo Sabres are just 13 games into their season and have just three wins. Once again, it appears the Sabres will be the league’s lowest scoring team by a land slide.  The biggest reason why the Sabres have been competitive in some of their games this year has been the play of goaltenders Michael Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth.  This is the first season in recent memory that the Sabres have not had a true number one goalie.  Both Enroth and Neuvirth are making it tough on Ted Nolan to name a full time starter.  Both goalies are in contract years, so both are playing with a lot to prove, and show that they can be viable goalies in the NHL.

Since being drafted in the 2nd round by the Sabres in 2006, Enroth has never really been given a chance to be a full time NHL starter.  Over the past six seasons, Enroth has compiled a record of 26-41-13 in 89 games.  More notably, Enroth’s record this season is just 1-6-1 with a .908 save percentage and 3.34 goals against average.

Enroth lacks size, standing at 5’10’’ and 166 pounds. Although the Sabres have left their goalies out to dry, Enroth has struggled with his rebound control.  His positioning is above average; however, he needs to improve his rebounds until he can be a consistent every day starter.  Throughout the duration of his career, the Stockholm native has struggled to stay healthy, resulting in less playing time.  If Enroth can stay healthy and continue keeping the Sabres in games, then he is definitely making a case to earn playing time as the Sabres starting goalie.

Also taken in the 2nd round in the 2006 NHL draft, Neuvirth began his career with the Washington Capitals.  In the 2010-11 season, he recorded a career high 27 wins and led the Caps to the playoffs.  Since then, Neuvirth has struggled to stay healthy and was shipped to Buffalo at last year’s trade deadline.  In five starts this season, he holds a 2-3 record, with an impressive .918 save percentage and 2.96 goals against average.

Standing at 6’1’’ and 199 pounds, Neuvirth possesses solid size, but just like Enroth, has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. The Usti Labem, Czech Republic native has shown that he can stay poised when being peppered with lots of shots.  Neuvirth has exceptional rebound control as this has really shown early on this season.  The only knock on him, is that at times, he plays a little bit too deep in his net, allowing opposing shooters more open space to shoot at.  Again, if Neuvirth can stay healthy, and continue to play at a consistent level, there is no reason why he can’t be an NHL starting goalie.

Once training camp and preseason had concluded, it appeared that Enroth had won the title as the Sabres starting goalie, as he had clearly out performed Neuvirth. Fast forward almost a month into the season, and it looks like Neuvirth may have the upper hand on Enroth.  Although he has started three less games, Neuvirth is playing with lots of confidence, and it seems like the team plays a more aggressive and complete game when he is between the pipes.

For the time being, it looks like Ted Nolan will start whoever has the hotter hand until one of the goalies pulls away from the other. In my opinion, I think you will start to see Neuvirth pull away with the starting job.  He not only has experience as a starting goalie, but seems to be fully healthy for the first time in a while.  Hopefully he can return to his 2010-11 form, where he had his best year as a starting goalie.  Although the Sabres aren’t going anywhere this year, it would be nice if they could determine throughout the season, who will be their starting goalie for the future.

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