BUFFALO – Eric Comrie sees a bright spot in his trying season. Other than a brief conditioning stint in the minors, the Sabres goalie has stayed put here.
In past seasons, he has led a nomadic existence, bouncing all over North America. Over one two-year stretch, he was claimed on waivers four times.
So while he has battled injuries, lost his starting job and recently allowed 10 goals in one game, the affable Comrie, 27, has enjoyed sticking with the Sabres.
“Difficult, yes, but nice because I was in the same spot all year,” the loquacious Comrie said of his season following Thursday’s practice at LECOM Harborcenter. “So that’s kind of nice. I didn’t have to move around. My wife was happy. My dog was happy. So that’s all good.
“But for myself, it’s definitely been difficult, definitely harder.”
Sabres coach Don Granato said Comrie is progressing from a lower-body injury that has sidelined him the last six games. He began practicing Monday and could be available for tonight’s contest against the New Jersey Devils at KeyBank Center.
Comrie found a bit of a groove shortly before suffering his latest injury. Despite playing just four times over a 24-game stretch, he won every appearance. He said he felt like he did early in the season, when he started 11 of the first 17 games.
Then March 9, he went the distance in an odd and embarrassing 10-4 loss to the Dallas Stars. Incredibly, he played well that night, stopping some early breakaways and making 39 total saves.
“That’s sometimes how hockey goes,” he said. “The funny thing was that game was 5-3 in the third period, 11 minutes left, and we had a chance. Looking pretty good and then it kind of went off the rails.”
Comrie, having been injured the next day in practice, has been sitting on that loss for two weeks. He believes, however, the layoff hasn’t hurt him.
“I feel good,” he said. “I feel like I have throughout the start of the year, right before that (Dallas game) when I was on a four-game win streak. I feel like I’ve been playing good playing good hockey in practice. I feel sharp, I feel pretty dialed in.”
So perhaps Granato will utilize him tonight or for Saturday afternoon’s road game against the New York Islanders. The Sabres also return home Monday to play the Montreal Canadiens.
Buffalo’s defense has been downright awful this month. In the last three games, goalies Craig Anderson and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen have allowed 18 total goals.
Giving Comrie another opportunity in the coming days couldn’t hurt, right?
The reeling Sabres, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games, have 12 contests left this season. When rookie Devon Levi’s immigration paperwork is finalized, they will have four goalies available to play.
Levi could earn the bulk of the action down the stretch, robbing Comrie of playing time. Still, he said he’s “really excited to watch him grow.”
“He’s an excellent goaltender, he’s a hockey nerd,” Comrie said. “I mean, it reminds me the same way I used to think when I was his age and just that eagerness and happiness and that excitement to be around. He’s a heck of a hockey player.”
It’s easy to forget now, but the Sabres signed Comrie to a two-year, $3.6 million contract to be their starter this season. But since suffering a lower-body injury Nov. 16 and missing seven weeks, he has played just six of the last 53 games.
In his first absence, Luukkonen, a rookie, emerged as the No. 1 goalie. Since January, Comrie has often found himself third on the depth chart behind Anderson.
“It’s been frustrating all year, kind of,” said Comrie, who has compiled an 8-9-0 record with a 3.95 goals-against average and an .877 save percentage this season. “We get playing the first little bit, then we go through a bunch of injuries, then I get injured, out for a while. Come back, start feeling good, then that (Dallas) game happens and I get hurt again.”
In rough times, Comrie said in addition to his wife, Haley, he can lean on his teammates.
“It’s funny to say, but this team, we’re all a support system for each other,” he said. “It’s by far the closest team I’ve been on in my life. It doesn’t matter who, we talk about everything. Everything’s open, everything’s a discussion, everything’s like, ‘Hey, let’s do this as a group.’ If we’re doing bad, it’s as a group. But if we’re doing good, it’s as a group. ‘Hey, how do we dial in and be great teammates to each other?’ …
“You don’t have that on a lot of teams. And we’re very fortunate with what we have and it’s special.”