MONTREAL – One result of Milan Lucic’s charge on Buffalo’s all-star goalie Ryan Miller is that 23-year-old Jhonas Enroth will be the Sabres starter for the foreseeable future.
Miller suffered a concussion after he was slammed by the burly Bruins’ winger in a 6-2 Boston victory on Saturday night, thrusting a little-known 23-year-old with impressive NHL numbers into the No. 1 job.
“This was the start I’ve been looking for,” Enroth said Monday as the Sabres prepared to face the Montreal Canadiens. “I know I can do this.
“I’ll just try to stay humble and work hard every game again.”
Enroth went 5-0-0 to start the season and posted much better numbers than Miller, who was a mediocre 5-6-1 with a 2.86 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
Coach Lindy Ruff said Miller “doesn’t feel good” but had no idea how long the Vezina Trophy winner will be out of action.
Miller had come out of the net to play a puck 13:12 into the first period when the onrushing Lucic ran him over, drawing a two-minute charging penalty. He stayed in the game, but was replaced by Enroth to start the third period.
Sabres management, and their fans, were aghast that players on the ice did little more than mill around Lucic after the hit.
Coach Lindy Ruff held a meeting with the players Sunday about their non-response, but said said the matter was settled and they wanted to move on with their season.
Their wish that Lucic would be suspended was not to be, however, as league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan said Monday he found no “intent” to hit Miller on Lucic’s part and that no further discipline was warranted.
Ruff felt otherwise.
“If he isn’t suspended, it just means that teams will be able to do exactly what Lucic did,” he said before the verdict was announced. “Your goaltender can play the puck, we can run him over, we can hurt him and all you get is a two minute minor penalty.
“That is essentially what that would mean. You can concuss the other team’s goaltender, you can run him at whatever speed he was going. He made no attempt to get out of the way. It means it’s fair game on goaltenders again.”
With Lucic suspended or not, Miller remains sidelined and the Sabres will have to get on without him.
Asked if he would be wary of leaving the crease after what happened to Miller, Enroth said “When I leave the crease, I’m just going to play it. It’s not a problem.”
The five-foot-10 Enroth took over last season when Miller suffered a concussion and did fine. He went 9-2-2 in five separate recalls from AHL Portland in 2010-11.
“Jhonas is not the typical big butterfly goalie,” said Sabres captain Jason Pminville. “He’s on the smaller side.
“He’s more of a standup goalie, with a butterfly. Through the stretch last year he played really well and gave us a chance to be in the playoffs. This year he came into camp and didn’t expect to play a lot with Ryan as our starter, but he got the opportunity to play and his hard work has been rewarded. He’s capable of doing it.”
A bigger concern was that no one challenged Lucic, but Pominville said it was a snap decision by the players on the ice.
“When it first happens, you’re thinking it’s a big point in the game, it will probably be a major penalty,” added Pominville. “If you get a couple of goals on that power play you might win the game off that incident.
“Obviously that’s not the way it happened. It was a minor penalty. But on the ice, you don’t know that. But we should have responded differently and we’re well aware of it.”
Much of the attention was on physical forward Paul Gaustad, who could have called Lucic out but didn’t.
“That situation happened and we’ve dealt with it and we talked as a team about it and we have to move on, we can’t dwell on it,” Gaustad said.
He was even asked if Miler had the team’s support because they haven’t played well in front of him and then didn’t rush to defend him when he was knocked flat on the ice.
“It’s not Ryan we’re not playing well in front of, we’re not playing well as a team,” he said. “Unfortunately, Ryan’s got the brunt of it.
“I’ve been teammates with Ryan for 10 years and we stand behind him. Unfortunately, what happened the other night is unacceptable in this locker room and we’re going to move forward as a team and really strive for it to make us a better team because of it. I told Ryan it’s not going to happen again. I apologized. I stand 100 per cent behind Ryan and so does this team. He understands.”
Ruff also hopes it can be a rallying point for the club for the rest of the season.
He feels the team’s 10-6-0 record to start the campaign is better than they deserved with their play and that it may inspire them to clean up their game in many areas.
It may work as long as Enroth continues to provide the kind of goaltending normally expected from an elite puck-stopper like Miller.
“I feel pretty confident,” said Enroth. “We have a good goalie here from the minors (Drew MacIntyre) and we have a good team, too. I know they’ll help me a lot. We’re losing probably the best goalie in the league. It’s not good, but we have good guys here who are going to help me.”