Buffalo Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth, of Sweden, blocks a shot as the Sabres won the preseason opener, 2-0, against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Defenceman Tyler Myers immediately sensed something was different in the Buffalo Sabres' locker room when he arrived for the start of training camp.
The welcome sight of Ryan Miller—with his ever-unshaven face, steely eyed stare and sometimes brooding presence—was missing from his familiar perch in front of the oversized goalie stall at the far end of the room.
"It's a different feeling for sure," Myers said. "He did his thing on the ice, but he was such a presence off the ice as well in the dressing room."
"Miller Time" ended in Buffalo when the star goalie was traded to St. Louis in February, and then signed with Vancouver in free agency this summer.
That leaves the Sabres preparing to open their first season since Miller took over in 2005 without an established starter. The change comes after Buffalo spent last season completing a near top-to-bottom overhaul in which they switched coaches, general managers, purged much of its veteran core and finished with an NHL-worst 21-51-10 record.
"That's what our message was to our players: It's a fresh beginning," coach Ted Nolan said. "We appreciate everything Ryan did, but now it's Jhonas and Neuvirth's time."
Nolan was referring to Jhonas Enroth, Miller's backup, and Michal Neuvirth, who was acquired in a trade with Washington in March.
Enroth earned an early preseason edge in the competition after stopping 35 shots in a 2-0 win over Carolina on Tuesday.
"It was a good first game, but just preseason still," Enroth said. "I went into the game trying to have good habits and work hard, and it paid off."
Neuvirth is a candidate to make his first preseason appearance Friday, when Buffalo hosts Toronto.
Though the two are newly united in Buffalo, they've shared a similar path to the NHL.
It began in Europe, where the 26-year-olds were born three months apart (Enroth in Sweden, and Neuvirth the Czech Republic), and grew up playing against each other in various international tournaments. It continued in the NHL draft in 2006, when they were separated by 12 picks in the second round: Neuvirth was selected 34th by Washington, and Enroth 46th by Buffalo.
Then came last spring, when both spent time visiting the same doctors to rehab season-ending injuries—Enroth a right knee, and Neuvirth a hip and groin—sustained two games apart in Buffalo.
"We kind of bonded a little bit being hurt together," Enroth recalled. "Yeah, we're good friends now."
And competitors, too, with big skates to fill.
Miller, the NHL's 2010 Vezina Trophy-winner, set franchise records with 284 wins and 540 games played, and was the team's unquestioned leader.
"This is the chance I've been wanting for pretty much my whole career," Enroth said. "But I'm not going to try to fill his shoes, I'm just going to try to be myself."
He has had an up-and-down career in Buffalo.
Enroth opened by going 9-3-2, and became the NHL's first goalie to earn his first three wins in shootouts. Then came last season, when he had an 0-10-4 skid, which ended with a 29-save performance in a 5-4 overtime win against Boston on Feb. 26, two days before Miller was traded.
Overall, he has a 25-25-12 record with three shutouts.
Neuvirth has the better numbers, with a 59-43-13 record and seven shutouts. But he proved to be the odd-man out in Washington, first behind Semyon Varlamov and then Braden Holtby.
"I put the last two years behind me, and now I'm looking forward to this season," Neuvirth said. "I think we're going to push each other. I feel like we're going to be a good tandem."