Image (1) ryanmiller3-thumb-250x344-21286.jpg for post 5978

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

1 Comment

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 reference.com, 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.

Sens sign Smith to four-year, $13 million extension

Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators
Getty
Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, we passed along word that Ottawa and Zack Smith had engaged in preliminary extension talks.

On Monday, the two sides wrapped ’em up.

Smith and the Sens have agreed to a four-year deal worth $13 million — an average annual cap hit of $3.25 million, as announced this afternoon. It’s a pretty nice pay bump for the 28-year-old, who’s in the final year of a deal that pays $1.88M.

Smith had a breakout performance last year, scoring a career-high 25 goals while averaging a healthy 15:24 TOI per night. This year he’s been equally effective offensively — 11 goals and 22 points in 43 games — and has thrived at times playing on a line with Derick Brassard and Mark Stone.

Smith also earned the praise of his coaching staff, particularly assistant bench boss Marc Crawford.

“He is so strong on the puck and he has got a very good shot,” Crawford explained, per the Citizen. “He’s fearless and he goes to the net.”

This new extension kicks in next season, and will keep Smith in the Canadian capital through 2021. The only players on the current roster locked in for that long are Dion Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan.

 

Pre-game reading: Remembering the ’74-75 Caps, who were just terrible

1 Comment

— Up top, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh recalls his high-school hockey days in Minnesota, where he won a state championship with Cretin-Derham Hall and received the 2007 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award.

— An enjoyable look back at the NHL’s worst-ever team, the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. “To date, no team has played at least 70 games while posting fewer points (21), wins (8) or road wins (1) than the 1974-75 Capitals. Nor has any mustered a lower points percentage (.131), allowed more total goals (446), or dropped more contests consecutively (17).” The expansion Caps lost 67 games that season, including ones by scores of 10-4, 11-1, 12-1, 10-0, 10-3, 12-1, and 10-2. Click here to see their entire season. (Sports Illustrated)

— Speaking of expansion teams, Sportsnet recently caught up with Vegas president Kerry Bubolz, who had the following to say about the Golden Knights’ unique market: “We are setting aside some of our ticket inventory for that convention or leisure traveler, but the vast majority of our inventory is going to be sold locally. The local who happens to be from another market, maybe their hometown is Philadelphia or Boston or Chicago… we’re going to be embracing the fact that they may be fans of another team. But we’re going to encourage them to join our team as well. You can only play those other teams once a year.” (Sportsnet)

— A touching tribute from Paul Holmgren to his late brother, Dave, who gave him a gift he’ll never forget. All these years later, Holmgren only wishes he’d made more of an effort to say thanks. “I don’t remember thanking him, even though my father had specifically told me to. And even if I did, I’m convinced that I didn’t thank him enough.” (Player’s Tribune)

— The Boston Globe remembers the last Bruins team to make the playoffs. “Tuukka Rask was doing his thing. Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton formed an excellent top defensive pairing. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were emerging as the best 200-foot tandem in the league with Reilly Smith riding shotgun. Musclemen Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla flanked David Krejci. Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson were chewing up bottom-six forwards and third pairings as third-line partners.” Indeed, it’s a different-looking group today, and management must accept much of the responsibility for what’s gone wrong. That doesn’t mean Claude Julien’s job is safe, but the Globe’s analysis is worth a read. (Boston Globe)

— The NHL has hired an artist to paint 100 portraits of the league’s 100 top players. It’s quite an undertaking for one artist, but for Tony Harris, it’s also “maybe the greatest job I could ever get.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!

The goaltending market is going to be very interesting this summer

New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss makes a save during the third period of the NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in New York. The Flyers defeated the Islanders in overtime 3-2. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Getty
Leave a comment

Thomas Greiss is the NHL’s second star of the week, and his New York Islanders suddenly have a flicker of hope.

Greiss went 2-0-1 with a .971 save percentage and two shutouts last week. Even the game he didn’t win was a good performance, as he made 44 stops in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Flyers on Sunday.

Greiss, 30, is a pending unrestricted free agent. And given his numbers over the last two seasons combined (35-18-7, .928), he’s got every right to seek out a significant raise from his current cap hit with the Isles of just $1.5 million.

For that matter, so does Scott Darling, who’s been so good as Chicago’s backup behind Corey Crawford. Ditto for Buffalo’s Anders Nilsson, New Jersey’s Keith Kinkaid, Ottawa’s Mike Condon and Calgary’s Chad Johnson. All are pending UFAs. And all are enjoying good to great seasons.

Another pending UFA who’s playing well is Vancouver’s Ryan Miller. Granted, his situation is a bit different in that he’s 36 years old and proven as an NHL starter.

Read more: What does the future hold for Ryan Miller?

But all these goalies playing well, and none of them with contracts beyond the current season, could sure make for an interesting summer — and that goes double for a summer that will start off with an expansion draft.

As you surely know by now, each team is only allowed to protect one goalie. It’s already created quite the debate in places like Pittsburgh, where the youngster, Matt Murray, has outplayed the veteran, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Meanwhile, goalies like Brian Elliott, Ben Bishop, Steve Mason, and Michal Neuvirth have hurt their value. Each had an excellent 2015-16 campaign. Alas, they’ve all struggled quite badly this season, to the point any GM would have to think long and hard about signing one to a big-money, long-term contract. All four are — yep, you got it — pending UFAs.

With almost half a season, plus the playoffs, to go, there’s still plenty of time for goalies to make their cases, or lose them. We’ll have to wait and see how the market looks come July 1.

But it’s going to be interesting to watch. Goaltending is inherently unpredictable. There will probably be a surprise or two more.

Related: Anton Khudobin hasn’t solved the Bruins’ backup goalie problem

Goalie nods: Days after debuting against the Sharks, Martin gets second career start… against the Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 21:  Spencer Martin #30 of the Colorado Avalanche plays in goal against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on January 21, 2017 in San Jose, California. This is Martin's first NHL game.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Haven’t run this one through the folks at Elias yet, but Avs goalie Spencer Martin might be on the verge of history.

Martin, who made his NHL debut in Saturday’s OT loss in San Jose, will be right back in goal as the two teams flip venues — Colorado hosts the Sharks tonight at the Pepsi Center.

So Martin — a 21-year-old rookie — first makes his big-league debut, then gets a second consecutive start, all against the same opponent. Can’t imagine that’s happened too many times.

There’s an interesting dynamic at play beyond the historical stuff, too.

Last week, the Avs shut down Semyon Varlamov until after the All-Star break so he could deal with a lingering, troublesome groin injury. Around the same time, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman speculated that Colorado might look to change its situation in goal, writing “I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.”

Given this season is toast, it would appear the Avs are analyzing what they’ve got in Martin. He does have some pedigree — the 63rd overall selection in 2013 — and has played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year. Of course, gauging Martin will be tough. He’s playing behind one of the worst teams in the league, and is still really inexperienced. In fact, he’s the second-youngest goalie to appear in an NHL game this season.

For the Sharks, Martin Jones is in goal.

Elsewhere…

Henrik Lundqvist, fresh off a 21-save shutout of Detroit on Sunday, will go back-to-back when the Rangers host the Kings at MSG. No word yet on who starts for L.A.

— Carolina gave Cam Ward a rare night off on Saturday, as Michael Leighton was in for a loss to Columbus. Ward returns to the starter’s crease tonight in Washington, where he’ll face Braden Holtby.

Brian Elliott, who came on in relief of Chad Johnson in Saturday’s blowout loss to the Oilers, gets the start for Calgary in Toronto. The Leafs will counter with Frederik Andersen.

— Ondrej Pavelec looks for his third straight win since being recalled as the Jets host the Ducks. Jonathan Bernier, who came on in relief of the injured John Gibson on Saturday, appears to be in for Anaheim.

Mike Smith, who made 45 saves in a win over Tampa Bay this past weekend, goes for the Coyotes. No word yet on who starts for the visiting Panthers.