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Ryan Miller needs more help if the Sabres want to shake slump

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When I first realized that the Buffalo Sabres were about to suffer yet another significant beating, I couldn’t help but make an immediate assumption that something is very, very wrong with Ryan Miller. Yet when I peeked at his page at hockey, I saw that his save percentage was a very respectable 91.9 percent. (Although, to be fair, that number will go down after tonight’s jarring loss against the Philadelphia Flyers).

Does that mean that Miller’s off the hook? Well, not completely.

After wrestling the title of Perceived Best Goalie in the World away from luminaries such as Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist and so on thanks to a splendid 2009-10 season and Olympic run, Miller is struggling. But he’s not struggling uniformly; instead, Miller either puts together an outstanding effort or lays down a stink bomb.

While he played well in two losses, it’s still stunning to look at winning Miller versus losing Miller.

Ryan Miller in wins (three games)

2-1 win at Ottawa: 25 saves on 26 shots for one goal allowed.

4-1 win at Atlanta: 17 saves on 18 shots for one goal allowed.

6-1 win at New Jersey: 26 saves on 27 shots for one goal allowed.

So, in three wins, Miller stopped 68 out of 71 shots and only allowed one goal per game. Notice the fact Buffalo allowed an average of less than 24 shots per game and no more than 27 in any single contest in those wins.

Ryan Miller in losses (six games)

6-3 loss at home vs. Rangers: 22 saves on 27 shots for five goals allowed (plus empty-netter).

4-3 loss at home vs. Chicago: 26 saves on 30 shots for four goals allowed.

1-0 overtime loss at home vs. Devils: 34 saves on 35 shots for one goal allowed.

2-1 loss at home vs. Canadiens: 26 saves on 28 shots for two goals allowed.

4-2 loss at home vs. Ottawa: 28 saves on 31 shots for three goals allowed.

6-3 loss in Philadelphia: 28 saves on 33 shots for five goals allowed.

Now, it’s not like Miller has been that bad in every loss. He didn’t have any goal support in a great performance against New Jersey and only one goal to work with when he was solid at home against Montreal.

Any goalie’s numbers will look worse in losses, but there’s certainly a stark contrast so far for Miller (and the team in front of him). He stopped 164 out of 184 shots in those six losses, which would yield an 89.1 save percentage. Those 20 goals in six games makes for a 3.33 goal per game average to boot (his actual GAA would be a little higher considering the times he was pulled from the net).

As you can see, when the shots pile up past that 27 shot threshold, things slip considerably for the all-world goalie. Obviously, he played well in some of those losses, though, as his team only gave him one goal to work with against Montreal and none against the Devils. The Sabres allowed an average of 30.6 shots per game in defeat, about seven more than in victories.


So, the question is, will Miller and the Sabres snap out of it? Well, it’s hard to say. If the “Miller usually falters when his defense gives up 28 or more shots” trend continues, it’s a little shaky as 30 shots allowed seems like the Mendoza line in the NHL so far. (Buffalo allows 27.9 per game, but I would guess that number didn’t factor in tonight’s 33 shots allowed.)

The most disturbing number of them all, though, is the team’s overall home record of 0-4-1. You’d think that they would play better in Buffalo with the benefit of choosing their own defensive matchups, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Ultimately, Miller is still an elite goalie, but the Sabres are probably too dependent on him to play that way every night. An already mediocre defense lost some stable (but not spectacular) pieces such as Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder and their offense is OK but far from dominant, so there isn’t much room for error.

My guess is that Miller will straighten things to some extent, but it won’t be enough to win the Northeast. Making the playoffs isn’t out of the question yet, but the Sabres need to play better hockey in front of their all-world goalie to have a legitimate chance.

After healthy scratch, Severson vows to play ‘next 80 games’

Jimmy Hayes, Damon Severson
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Damon Severson was a healthy scratch on Saturday.

It’s the last game he wants to miss this season.

“I had a good chat with a few people and just pretty much said, ‘I want to be in the next 80 games,’” Severson said, per The Record. “I sat out my game and that’s all I want to be out for for the year.”

Severson is one of the Devils’ most important young players. But this is also the 21-year-old defenseman’s sophomore season, and that’s when slumps can occur.

Hence, the early message he was sent by the coaching staff.

Severson is expected to be back in the lineup tonight when New Jersey hosts Nashville.

“He doesn’t have to be perfect,” coach John Hynes told reporters. “We’d just like to see him have a high compete level. We know he’s ready to go. We had a couple of good meetings with him. He’s in a good spot mentally. I know he’s ready to roll.”

Virtanen to make NHL debut tonight versus Kings

Jake Virtanen
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Jake Virtanen, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, will make his NHL debut tonight when his Canucks meet the Kings in Los Angeles.

The 19-year-old winger was a healthy scratch for Vancouver’s first three games of the regular season. He had two goals and two assists in six preseason games.

“I can’t wait,” he told reporters. “My energy is high. I want to get a couple of hits on my first shift.”

Big and physical with goal-scoring ability, the consensus is that Virtanen will remain in the NHL and not be returned to junior after he’s played nine games. That consensus could always change based on his play, of course.

The Canucks — who won last night in Anaheim — did not have a full skate this morning, so it’s unclear who will come out of the lineup. The best guess is rookie Jared McCann, who’s been playing third-line center.

If McCann does come out, the Canucks could move Brandon Sutter to third-line center and Virtanen could take Sutter’s spot on the first line with the Sedin twins. Or, there could be more extensive line juggling.