One would have to forgive Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth for being at a loss for words Thursday night.
He made 34 saves, but the Sabres still lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Florida Panthers. That lowered his record for the season to 1-8-4. In 13 starts, the Sabres have scored a combined 17 goals for him.
"I'm running out of answers," he said after the game. "It's tough to win with this team."
That's been true for anybody in a Sabres uniform this season. But to be fair, Enroth was lucky at least Thursday to be in a position to win. The Panthers hit five goal posts during the game and had two goals disallowed that probably should have counted.
Even so, his teammates acknowledge the goal support has been sorely lacking.
"I think he played really good for us," said Johan Larsson, who missed a handful of good scoring chances Thursday and remains goalless in 21 games this season. "I understand he's frustrated. We need to pick it up for him."
"We're having a tough time closing it out for him," defenseman Mike Weber said. "We need to do better."
Due in part to the team's general ineptitude, Enroth has posted a rather pedestrian 2.46 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. But he's still highly regarded enough to have earned a spot on the Swedish Olympic hockey team for next month's Sochi games, and he signed a two-year deal with the Sabres entering this season, partially on the assumption Ryan Miller would move on once his contract expires this summer.
Coach Ted Nolan said the team plays no differently in front of either goalie. He could not really explain why the team's struggles are amplified when Enroth plays:
"Almost any game he's played, he's given us a chance … I thought (Thursday) he was sensational. We just didn't give him too much help in front."
Enroth figures to play more through the rest of this season than backups have in years past for the Sabres. Miller figures to need more rest after an Olympic run of his own during which he will probably start (Enroth will back up Henrik Lundqvist). But Sabres backups have traditionally not fared well. Enroth went 4-4-1 last season and 8-11-4 the season prior. Enroth and Patrick Lalime went 9-7-2 in 2010-11, the last time the Sabres made the playoffs, while that tandem went 4-9-2 in the Northeast Division-winning season of 2009-10.
Whether due to inferior goalie play (they are backups, after all) or a genuine difference in playing style among skaters, the Sabres are once again plagued by inferior results when their starter isn't between the pipes. That's a problem that needs to be resolved before the team can even begin thinking of a rebound.
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