BUFFALO – This city, Jhonas Enroth said, will always “have a soft spot in my heart.” The Swede grew up with the Sabres, often performing like the team’s goalie of the future during his 118-game run here.
But almost two years after his last appearance with the Sabres, “the feeling is starting to cool down a little bit,” Enroth said Thursday prior to the Sabres’ 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs are Enroth’s third team since the Sabres traded him to the Dallas Stars on Feb. 11, 2015. He spent last season as the Los Angeles Kings’ backup.
Enroth made his first appearance as an opponent Dec. 12 at KeyBank Center. He also played a preseason game here Sept. 30.
“I remember my first game back was very special, I thought,” Enroth said. “But now it’s just another game, pretty much. Not too special, to be honest.”
The diminutive Enroth played with only 11 of the Sabres in Thursday’s lineup, so his connections to the team are dwindling.
Enroth, 28, played well last season, going 7-5-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in 16 games.
Still, the Kings, who have already used four goalies this season, passed on re-signing him, bringing in Jeff Zatkoff instead.
Finally, after seven weeks as a free agent, Enroth signed a one-year, $750,000 contract Aug. 22.
“It took a while for me, and it was tough,” Enroth said. “But at the same time, I knew that was the way this works sometimes for some people.”
Enroth said he never considered playing this season in Europe
“I felt like I was going to get a chance somewhere, so I stuck with it and just waited,” he said.
So far, Enroth has lost both starts as Frederik Andersen’s backup, compiling a 4.06 goals-against average and a .871 save percentage.
As a college freshman three years ago, sitting as a healthy scratch for weeks burned Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson.
“It shut me down in college,” the rookie said Thursday prior to his first appearance since Oct. 13, opening night.
Eventually, Nelson, 24, developed a different attitude – “You kind of grow up a little,” he said – and earned regular duty.
That experience in 2013 helped prep Nelson for the last three weeks. After playing his eighth NHL game Oct. 13, the Sabres scratched the Wisconsin native eight straight games. But with defenseman Zach Bogosian out “weeks” with a knee sprain between a Grade 1 or 2, according to Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, Nelson could enjoy regular action.
Of course, Bogosian’s loss – he was injured early in Tuesday’s 2-1 win in Minnesota – will hurt the Sabres. The Massena native had been skating more than 20 minutes on the second pair, most recently beside Dmitry Kulikov.
“Much like I think of our team game,” Bylsma said of Bogosian’s play. “I think we played a good defensive team game. Zach was a big part of that. … That’s something we’re going to miss.”
Nelson, who left the NCAA in March, has waited patiently for his opportunity. He said he tried to study defensemen from the press box as a scratch. He also played two AHL contests last month.
“You see a good-skating, smooth guy, head up,” Bylsma said. “(He’s a) good first pass guy, has a real good offensive hockey instinct.”
Nelson skated with Kulikov before moving beside Josh Gorges.
“Josh is where he played his best hockey in the preseason and a good guy to put him with, provide him some stability and talk to him a lot on the ice,” Bylsma said. “I thought he showed he can skate tonight, showed he can make a good first pass.”
Update: The Sabres have assigned Bailey to the Amerks and recalled winger William Carrier.
Rookie winger Hudson Fasching is still day-to-day with a groin injury, Bylsma said.
The Sabres also scratched winger Nick Deslauriers (knee).
Mike Babcock, admittedly, is “not a huge baseball fan.” Still, the Toronto Maple Leafs coach couldn’t help but watch Game 7 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians late Thursday night.
The actual game, a classic that Chicago won 8-7 in 10 innings, didn’t wow Babcock as much as the emotions and scenes in and around the ballpark.
“What a spectacular thing for a city,” Babcock said. “I mean, Cleveland was spectacular. You see all the people and the energy of the series. I think some good sports franchises can do a lot for their community and the feel-good of the community and the energy of the community. What I liked the best was watching the fans.
“Even though the players were a nervous wreck, the fans, like, it was like their life was on the line. I couldn’t believe it. They showed them, the emotion was spectacular and I thought it was a heck of an event to say the least.”