Why I can’t help but feel bad for Jhonas Enroth

Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

So the Leafs lost last night, in early-season fashion: A big built up lead, a collapse, and only one point to show for the efforts while Auston Matthews internally screams “WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO HELP?”. As the Leafs allowed three goals in 4:58, though, I could only think of one thing.

I feel really, really bad for Jhonas Enroth.

Enroth, as you all know, was signed by the Maple Leafs this summer to be their backup goalie. It was the only move this summer that both had speculation attached to it and actually came to fruition, and when the ink dried on the paper for real in late August, the move was met with much fanfare. Enroth, after all, was a very good backup for the Kings last season and has been at about average in every year of his career save for the Sabres’ McDavid tank year, where he was seemingly traded because his play was disrupting the losing (he was moved shortly after going on a four-game 0.934 run over the course of a week).

But it hasn’t gone well at all. Enroth has started in three games this year, and he’s lost all of them. He came into relief in the Vancouver game and stopped every shot, but the Leafs were in control, he faced just three pucks, and he was in because Andersen went to hug Ryan Miller, not because Toronto was in performance trouble. His one true relief appearance, against his former Kings, saw him give up the last three of a 7-0 blowout. In short, when Enroth played more than five minutes, his save percentage has been under 0.900 on every occasion.

Take all of these games into context, though.

  • October 20th: The Leafs are on the road for their second game in as many nights, headed to Minnesota after a catastrophic collapse against Winnipeg in the night prior. The Leafs outshoot the Wild but are out attempted and saw Minnesota come in waves. Enroth stops 24 of 27 but gave up a breakaway goal and a couple of a couple other close-range efforts. Nearly half of Minnesota’s even strength shot attempts fall into the “scoring chance” definition.
  • October 30th: The Leafs are on the road for their second game in as many nights, headed to Brooklyn after an unfortunate loss against Montreal in the night prior. The Leafs are outshot by the Islanders, despite out-attempting them. Score effects likely come into play here; Enroth gives up the first goal just a minute in. Nearly half of the Islanders’ even strength shot attempts fall into the “scoring chance” definition. Enroth allows five of 35 shots into his net.
  • November 5th: The Canucks and Leafs go insane and after Ryan Miller rushes to pull Matt Martin off of Troy Stetcher, Frederik Andersen realizes that he needs to make the journey across the ice in solidarity. He doesn’t do much but chat, but the rules state that he can’t finish the game. The Leafs are up 6-3 at this point and the Canucks are generally angry, so the game ends with Enroth deflecting away all three whatever-type shots he faces.
  • November 8th: Toronto are well rested, but get slapped around by the Kings. Andersen is pulled after allowing his fourth goal on 26 shots against midway through the second period; a mercy pull, to say the least, given the shot attempt total of 48-17 at this point. But the Leafs are long toast at this point. Despite being down by an ever-increasing amount of goals, the Kings continue to assert control of the game, and Enroth gives up three freakish goals over 17 shots: a shot banked off his back by Jeff Carter, a wild redirection by Kyle Clifford, and a skate deflection by Dwight King.
  • November 23rd: The Leafs are on the road for their second game in as many nights, headed to New Jersey after an unfortunate loss in Carolina the night prior. Auston Matthews regains life and notches three points in the first period, but before you know it, the Devils have out-attempted them 7-2 in the span of five and a half minutes and three goals go into the back of the net, mostly from close range opportunities. The Leafs regain the lead but Enroth allows one more, his fourth on 30 shots. There was a case for interference, which Enroth made clear, but the Leafs couldn’t challenge it as they had already used their timeout. Nearly half of New Jersey’s even strength shot attempts fall under the “scoring chance” definition.

In short: when Enroth has started, the Leafs have always been playing the second half of a back-to-back, don’t really control the play, and the shots they give up tend to be from close range or off the rush. While a great goalie is supposed to be able to drag you through in spite of poor circumstance, and you’d really like for him to have a night where he steals the show, there’s no doubt that cards he’s been dealt so far have, at the very least, made it more difficult.

Given his career history, there isn’t much doubt that he’ll bounce back in due time. The odds of him suddenly being incapable of stopping pucks at the NHL level are minuscule, especially at the age of 28. But who knows if he gets the opportunity?

Before last night’s game, Mike Babcock was pretty blunt about Enroth’s window. “He’s got to get himself a win here tonight, that’s the bottom line,” said the coach (via Mark Masters). “When you go in, you got to find a way, when you’re the guy not getting all the starts, to steal a win for the team, and then the coach is more likely to put you in more.”

With Andersen’s recent run of form, which as seen him put up a 0.931 save percentage on his last 404 shots against since October 27th, Enroth’s starting opportunities have been left to the second game in road back-to-backs. If this holds, he’ll only have six more cracks at the pipes come April. Such a thought is unrealistic, due to the odds of another neutral or cold spell for Andersen and the general wear-and-tear that a season provides, but it’s still possible yet that those additional starts could go to someone else.

While Enroth struggles, Karri Ramo continues to spend time around the Leafs, participating in practices through the past few weeks. This could be a Brandon Prust situation where the player shows up to practice while exploring other options, or there may be a legitimate sense of competition. Ramo has been a 30+ appearance a year goaltender since returning to the NHL in 2013/14, and has put up numbers in that stretch that lie around Enroth’s career average.

Importantly to Babcock, who has been long speculated to prefer bigger, “stop” oriented goaltenders who push pucks away and close off long-distance opportunities, Ramo is significantly bigger at 6’2, 205 than the 5’10, 170 Enroth. Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, both Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks are of similar builds and are putting up above-average AHL numbers at the moment.

In short, Enroth is underperforming. We all know he can be better than this, but we don’t know when that time will come. In Toronto’s current situation, they can’t afford to wait, so he’s only been put in worst case scenario situations and he’s been unable to pull out the huge bounce-back performance he needs to regain confidence. All of this while an unsigned goalie has his name on a locker stall and the kids below both show signs of readiness.

It’s a tough place to be in. Nobody can realistically blame the Leafs if they decide to move on from their recent addition, be it through trade, waivers, or mutual termination, but you can’t help but feel sympathetic for the player all the same.

      • Hardy

        both are waivers exempt.

        if a player requires waivers they would have already passed through to go down and wouldnt need to go back through to come up. ie. toronto can recall michalek, laich anytime they want

    • Tigon

      That might help. I cannot help but feel that the defence isn’t doing him any favours as well and I’m sure having a third goalie at practice, especially a guy not even on the team with a locker room stall and name plate, isn’t helping matters.

      “I’m the backup so I don’t play very often. I stay in game shape through practice, which isn’t the same as regularly playing games. And now when I do practice this other guy who isn’t even on our team is taking time away from me and hovering around like a dog at my dinner table.”

      Yeah, probably not a good feeling. I wouldn’t feel able to perform well in that work condition.

  • FlareKnight

    With Andersen they could wait for him to bounce back. He had the long term deal and really there was no other choice. A bargain backup? Unfortunately not as much leash nor as few options to run with.

    It’s an unfortunate situation for him, but I’m not sure the solution. Backup goalies aren’t going to be given long stretches of starts to work through problems and find their game. There is the pressure to get the job done with limited starts.

    In the end I feel worse for Matthews. He scores and every single time his team has let him down. How Matthews can be winless when scoring a goal is just nuts.

  • Stan Smith

    Such is the life of a career back-up goalie. While there was speculation the Leafs didn’t even need Enroth at the start of the season, that opportunities to get the occasional start for Sparks and Bibeau might be better, it appears that Leaf management were smart to leave Sparks and Bibeau out of the picture, and leaving them with the Marlies. We saw what sitting on the bench for the Leafs did for Sparks game least season.