Miller, Enroth, and the goaltending “controversy”


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For once in my lifetime, I actually agree with Bucky Gleason on something.  Bucky wrote the following this morning:

“No matter what senseless blather is drummed up in the community or what you read in the blogosphere or suspect when Miller has a rough night, there is no goaltending controversy in Buffalo. Miller will remain the No. 1 goalie so long as he’s healthy and keeps a stall in the Sabres’ dressing room. He’s not getting traded.”

Other than the unnecessary potshot at bloggers, none of whom I have seen advocating the trading of Miller, Bucky is absolutely right. Miller is your #1, Enroth is your #2, case closed.  (Bucky should have replaced “read in the blogosphere” with “heard on WGR”.  Man, were they ever letting callers push the concept of a goalie controversy on the postgame last night.)

Much to Bucky’s chagrin (and mine), though, the whispers of a controversy have started up amongst certain populations of the fanbase.  Maybe it’s because Buffalo loves a good controversy.  After all, it’s a good conversation starter, isn’t it?  Perhaps you might recall the aftermath of a certain Bills-Oilers playoff game, in which Frank Reich stepped in for an injured Jim Kelly and engineered the greatest comeback in NFL history.  It was as ridiculous then as it is now, but according to a large cross-section of fans (as this LA Times article points out), there it was: Reich, the career backup and soon-to-be journeyman, was suddenly a better quarterback choice than Kelly, the eventual Hall of Famer, even after Kelly was declared fully healthy.

I’m sure you remember what happened next: Kelly returned for the AFC Championship Game and took the Bills to the Super Bowl, then did it again the following year.  You can hop in a car and head four hours southwest of Buffalo to Canton, OH and view his bust in the Hall of Fame, if you so desire.  Reich, meanwhile, left for the expansion Carolina Panthers in 1995 and started a handful of games for them until being replaced by Kerry Collins in mid-season, then bounced around the league until his retirement in 1998.

My point is this: the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

Right now we have two very good goaltenders who know what their roles are, and each is performing extremely well in that role.

Ryan Miller is the starter.  He’s the workhorse.  He’s a former Vezina Trophy winner and makes $6.25 million a year. He’s 4-3 so far this season with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.  He single-handedly stole a 2-1 decision against Montreal a Tuesday ago and shut out the Florida Panthers two nights later.  In five of his seven games, he’s given up two goals or less. He’s going to have a sub-par game every now and again.  It happens.  It doesn’t mean he needs to be benched.

Jhonas Enroth is the backup.  He’ll come in every four or five games to spell Miller (so far, anyway, and I certainly hope Lindy sticks to that plan). Unlike every other backup goalie that has preceded him in the last few years, he’s actually rather competent.   So far this season, he’s 2-0 with a 2.00 GAA and a .946 save percentage.  He, also, will have a bad outing every now and again.  It doesn’t mean Miller needs to play the next 30 games.

Quite frankly, we should be thrilled that in Enroth, we now seem to have the solid backup we’ve lacked ever since Martin Biron was traded to the Flyers.  He’s played a total of 17 games in his career and probably isn’t ready for a full NHL workload anyways.  But despite this, there’s a rather vocal group of folks who want to push Enroth into that role after every lackluster outing by Miller and subsequent sparkling game from Enroth.

Every team in the NHL not named the Boston Bruins would likely kill to have our particular “goaltending problem”.  I don’t understand why we can’t simply live in a world in which we have two very good to great goaltenders, each doing exactly what is asked of them (and doing it very well), without an angry pitchfork-wielding mob ready to drive out the incumbent if he dares to allow pucks to be deflected off skates past him and into his net.  We have plenty of things to talk about regarding the Sabres without manufacturing a controversy to get the conversation started.  (Are you listening, WGR?) 

Can we please have some sanity regarding the goaltending situation, and not trade Ryan Miller for a bag of pucks after every quality Jhonas Enroth start?