Buffalo’s backup goaltenders need to be playing extremely well to keep Ryan Miller on the bench. The No. 1 netminder will get an occasional game off, but he’s almost always in the crease for the next outing.
Jhonas Enroth kept Miller planted on the sidelines all weekend and picked up a pair of wins in the process.
Enroth made 32 saves Sunday as Buffalo beat Tampa Bay, 3-1, in First Niagara Center. Enroth earned the start after blanking Philadelphia, 1-0, with a 29-save performance Saturday.
“It feels good to get a couple more games and be a bigger part of the team,” Enroth said. “I got a couple good games here in a row, so I’m going to try and build on that.”
Enroth is 4-0-1 in his last five starts with a 1.37 goals-against average and .958 save percentage. Add in a no-decision and a one-period relief appearance for Miller and Enroth’s numbers are 1.55 and .951 in his last seven outings.
The roll comes after he went winless for 15 months.
“It’s a big boost for me, especially after that start,” Enroth said.
It was only the second time since 2007 that Miller sat consecutive games while healthy. Former coach Lindy Ruff rested him Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, 2007, to give the goalie a breather following his appearance in the All-Star Game. Enroth earned back-to-back starts against Calgary and Ottawa on Nov. 4-5, 2011.
Other than that, it’s been Miller’s crease.
“I had a shutout, so I was kind of expecting to play,” Enroth said. “I wasn’t surprised.”
He hopes he’s done enough to make his third straight start Wednesday when the Sabres visit Boston.
“I won two straight games back-to-back, so I don’t know,” Enroth said. “We’ve still got one of the world’s best goalies in here, too, in Ryan, so we’ll see what happens.”
Enroth got help from a team that responded well after beatings by Winnipeg and Montreal last week.
“He’s been playing well,” Sabres right wing Patrick Kaleta said of the goalie. “The most important part is we’ve got to focus on playing our game and playing well in front of our goaltenders. Our goaltenders, both of them, have been playing great for us. They step up so big for us, and sometimes we don’t give them the best effort in front of them.
“After a little lull in our couple games there, we’ve actually really tried to focus on hard work and playing good in front of our goaltender, and it’s showing.”
The Sabres built a 3-0 lead through 32 minutes and cruised to their fifth victory in seven games.
“It’s good for us to bounce back, especially after the game against Montreal where we definitely got outworked and outplayed,” right wing Drew Stafford said. “Jhonas has played great. Obviously, we picked up our defensive game in front of him a little bit, but at the same time we know that when he’s making saves like he was the last couple games that we have a good chance of winning.”
The Sabres’ opening goal ended a trio of slumps as Tyler Ennis and Thomas Vanek combined to score on the power play with 4:09 off the clock. The goal ended an 11-game drought for Ennis. Vanek’s assist was his first point in five games. The power-play unit was 0 for 20 in the previous seven outings.
Jochen Hecht’s fourth goal of the year put Buffalo ahead by two with eight minutes gone in the second.
Kevin Porter kept his roll going, tipping home a pass from Brian Flynn to get on the score sheet for the fourth straight game and sixth time in the last seven.
Tampa’s Benoit Pouliot ended Enroth’s shutout streak at 96:11 when he tipped a shot with 6:30 left in the second period. It was the only puck that got by him, and the victory pulled the Sabres within four points of the eighth-place New York Rangers, who have played two fewer games.
“Jhonas played amazing. He’s a big reason why we got two wins this weekend,” Ennis said. “We’re playing well and getting contributions from everyone. We’re going to have to stay on the gas because we’ve only got five games left.”