Stevenson: Win and you're in

Ottawa Senators Nick Foligno watches the puck as he tries to score on Buffalo Sabre Jhonas Enroth...

Ottawa Senators Nick Foligno watches the puck as he tries to score on Buffalo Sabre Jhonas Enroth in NHL hockey action at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on November 5, 2011. (Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:23 AM ET

A dozen Buffalo Sabres fans with those blue "Sacred Order of the Water Buffalo"-type hats down in a corner of Scotiabank Place on Saturday were waving a Miller High Life flag before the Sabres took on the Ottawa Senators.

The flag made only a brief appearance, much like Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller.

Jhonas Enroth, in a somewhat surprising development, was the first out of the chute when the Sabres took to the ice for the warmup, making his second start in a row. He was playing in his fourth out of the last five games.

The veteran Miller, who was yanked after giving up three goals on 11 shots in six minutes of work against Philly Wednesday night (certainly not all Miller's doing), worked the warmup and then took a seat at the end of the bench -- again.

It's the first time since the 2006-07 season that a healthy Miller has sat in back-to-back games.

Enroth, 23, was taken 46th overall by the Sabres in the 2006 draft and now owns a 13-3-2 career record after his team's six-round shootout win over the Senators.

"You just go on a hunch," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, "and try and make your best decisions. It's not an easy decision to make because you need both guys going."

Age, experience, resumes, none seem to matter as much any more as in increasing fashion, more than a few NHL coaches have become remarkably short-sighted when it comes to deciding who is going to be first out of the gate and into the net on a given night.

Short-sighted in they are looking back as far as the last game.

Win and you're in.

Enroth had given up just one goal on 45 shots in his last two games before Saturday night, so you could see how Ruff could play that hunch in a back-to-back situation.

Buffalo isn't the only town where the guy who was figured to be the go-to guy has taken a back seat to his understudy.

In St. Louis, former Montreal Canadiens playoff hero Jaroslav Halak has been supplanted by Brian Elliott. The former Senators castoff was 5-1 with a 1.72 goals against average and .941 save percentage (Halak was 1-5, 3.58, .843) going into Saturday's game against the Wild. Which brings us to ...

Minnesota, where Josh Harding has unseated Niklas Backstrom as the starter, earning the net for the last three games. He shut out the Detroit Red Wings (okay, maybe not that big a deal right now) and won the rematch, then beat the Vancouver Canucks.

"We're spending a lot of time talking about it like we have a goalie controversy or something right now," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "To me, it's just a guy who's earned an opportunity to go out and get the net again. We go day by day here."

Harding's .964 save percentage, tops in the league, has helped boost the Wild to the second-best goals against average in the league behind the Edmonton Oilers (correct, Edmonton Oilers).

Harding got the start against the Blues on Saturday, while Halak got the nod for St. Louis.

n In Tampa, the rough start by veteran Dwayne Roloson opened the door for Mathieu Garon. Garon had played in seven games and Roloson eight.

n You would think Antti Niemi is the guy in San Jose for the Sharks, but Thomas Greiss has played almost as many minutes (365 to 302) and Greiss' save percentage of .928 is much better than Niemi's .893.

Having a backup who can get the job done on a consistent basis opens up some interesting options. In the case of it being a younger guy (think Cory Schneider in Vancouver playing behind Roberto Luongo) there is always the possibility of dealing him for an important piece. Of course, if your No. 1 guy is having his problems and the backup is doing the job, maybe you don't want to trust your veteran.

There's no question Miller will get back his form -- and the net -- back.

For the moment, the guys in the blue hats with the horns will have to think about getting another flag.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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