BUFFALO – After almost four seasons as a backup, Jhonas Enroth’s run at becoming the Sabres’ No. 1 goalie lasted seven games before a sprained MCL ended his trying campaign.
A disappointing finish to an odd year for the 25-year-old, right?
“Kind of,” Enroth said Monday inside the First Niagara Center as the Sabres cleaned out their lockers.
Get this, the Swede said he was “kind of glad” he got hurt.
“If you understand me right,” he said.
Enroth believes stepping back and seeing “everything from a different kind of view” benefited him greatly. He “saw the passion in the fans’ face” during the final stages of the worst season in franchise history.
“It’s not like we don’t expect it,” Enroth said about the rabid support. “It’s more like we don’t really think about it too much when we’re playing. So it’s definitely a good thing. You can tell how passionate the fans here in Buffalo are. It’s something I picked up, something I learned from that.”
He learned a lot during 2013-14, a tumultuous year for Buffalo goaltending.
Enroth and Ryan Miller had played every game for more than two seasons before the Sabres traded the franchise goalie to St. Louis on Feb. 28.
By Sunday’s season finale, six goalies had played for the Sabres and nine had dressed.
“I thought the guys that played did a real good job,” Enroth said. “It’s definitely a real good competition.”
There could be a good competition in training camp, when Enroth will compete with newcomer Michal Neuvirth, who suffered a season-ending hip injury March 13, for the starting job.
“We’re setting up a culture here where people are going to have to start earning jobs instead of just, ‘OK, Jhonas you’re the guy’ or, ‘You got it,’” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We got to make it competitive. We have to change the culture. When you rebuild a program, it’s setting a structure in place, setting a foundation.”
Given Enroth is homegrown and played four months under Nolan, he could have the inside edge.
Enroth just endured a difficult season in which he played well but rarely won. After winning his first game Oct. 25, he went 16 straight appearances before earning his second victory Feb. 26.
In between, Enroth won a silver medal as Sweden’s backup at the Sochi Games.
But going 124 days between wins clearly wore on Enroth. He looked and sounded frustrated following games. On Jan. 10, he acknowledged the obvious, saying, “It’s tough to win with this team.”
Still, he wouldn’t say the season was tough on him mentally.
“I don’t think so,” Enroth said. “I felt pretty good the whole season. I thought I had a good year, not great year, but I thought I had a good year. I learned a lot from it.”
He went 4-17-5 in 28 games despite a 2.82 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.
Teammates voted him the Sabres’ unsung hero, an honor that meant “a lot,” he said.
“I think I was a little bit surprised of it,” he said. “I appreciate it a lot, especially when it comes from the guys. I’m very proud of it.”
Enroth is almost healthy. He was told he would need four to six weeks to recover after Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher crashed into him March 16.
He wants to play in next month’s world championship. He backstopped Sweden to a gold medal last year.