Ryan Miller

Hockey Day Preview: Ryan Miller struggles to carry Sabres again

When you’re on the streak of a lifetime, it’s important not to ask silly questions like “How can I possibly follow this up?” or “Will I ever reach these heights again?” Instead, you just ride the wave of success as far as it will take you and hope that you can navigate those currents once again when things go back to normal.

Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews were among the players who had incredible 2010 runs, but Ryan Miller’s year stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them. You might already know about his accomplishments already, but if not, here’s a quick rundown:

  • He (fairly easily) won the Vezina Trophy for the 2009-10 season.
  • Miller’s stellar goaltending powered the U.S. Olympic team to overachieve their way to a silver medal, as the team fell one iconic overtime gold medal winning goal away from the highest glory.
  • Miller was the catalyst for the Sabres’ surprising Northeast Division title run, even if the team fell short in the first round against the Boston Bruins.

It’s the kind of complete year that is hard to top, something that probably isn’t lost on the talented goalie as he struggles mightily during the 2010-11 campaign.

The drop-off

Miller only lost 18 games in regulation during each of the 08-09 and 09-10 seasons. He could match that mark already if the Sabres lose to the Washington Capitals today. After earning a career-high 92.9 save percentage behind a spotty Buffalo defense, he’s down to 91 percent this season (slightly lower than his career average of 91.4). He also has the highest goals against average (2.74) of any season in which he played 40 or more games, although he has time to move that below his career-worst mark of 2.73 from 06-07.

Buffalo might be making strides in the standings, but that probably has more to do with Drew Stafford’s recent offensive outburst than a significant improvement from Miller. In fact, judging from his split stats, February’s been his worst month with an average GAA of 3.11 and 89.2 save percentage. (It’s the only month in which his GAA is above three and his save percentage is below 90 percent.)

So, we’ve established the fact that Miller is falling far short of his possibly unsustainable 09-10 output. But the questions are: why is he struggling and is he still an elite goalie?

Explaining his struggles

If you ask me, it all comes down to the fact that Buffalo put way too much pressure on Miller to be one of the absolute best goalies on a nightly basis. The team’s defense wasn’t exactly outstanding last season, but they allowed steady-if-unspectacular mainstays Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder go for less proven replacements. They also assumed that Tyler Myers could match his breakthrough rookie season, which is asking a lot from a young player who is probably still growing into his lanky frame.

A shaky defense already puts Miller in a tough spot, but a lack of a go-to backup places even more weight on the American netminder’s shoulders. While the Rangers gave their workhorse goalie Henrik Lundqvist a capable backup in Martin Biron and the Devils invested in solid No. 2 Johan Hedberg for Martin Brodeur, the Sabres stuck with a second banana they clearly don’t trust in Patrick Lalime.

Lalime has appeared in seven games this season, going a nauseating 0-5-0 with a 2.96 GAA and 89 save percentage. The team’s lack of trust in Lalime and excessive reliance on Miller was clear when Jhonas Enroth relieved their No. 1 goalie after Miller played 31 consecutive games.

Conclusions

The Sabres skimped on a decent backup and assumed that Miller could clean up the messes of an even more fragile defense. Does that mean that his struggles are all Buffalo’s fault? No, some of it falls at Miller’s feet, but the team put him in a position to fail this season.

Buffalo can still make the playoffs and Miller is far from a lost cause, but the team would be wise to improve their suspect defense and take advantage of what should be a buyer’s market for reliable backups this summer. (Or even during the trade deadline … Ty Conklin and Chris Phillips, anyone?)

Jets have some disagreements with Trouba’s suspension, lack of suspension for Malkin

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 26: Jacob Trouba #8 of the Winnipeg Jets looks to pass the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 26, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Jets defeated the Blackhawks 5-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s department of player safety handed Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba a two-game suspension on Monday afternoon for a high, forceful hit to Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone over the weekend.

Stone is one of the many Senators forwards out of the lineup on Tuesday night.

It is a decision that has left the Jets feeling a little confused. Not only because of the suspension itself, but because of the lack of a suspension for Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin for a high hit he delivered on Jets forward Blake Wheeler on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

That perceived inconsistency has not entirely sat well with the Jets.

On Tuesday, before their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wheeler shared some of his thoughts on the differing decisions by the league.

“You like to see consistency throughout,” Wheeler said on Tuesday, via ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun. “We respect the fact they have a lot of hits they have to sort through every single day. There’s two glaring examples back to back, it gets the question why one way and why not the other way? So, it’s a little bit frustrating to see it. Even Jacob would say his hit wasn’t ideal, wishes he could have it back. You can’t really even speculate why they didn’t do the same to Malkin. It sure didn’t feel good.”

The NHL has not made an official explanation as to why it did not suspend Malkin, but it’s been reported that the league simply views the two plays as different types of hits. In the case of Malkin’s hit on Wheeler, the league saw the shoulder being the biggest point of contact and that it wasn’t necessarily charging or interference.

This was the hit.

He had more thoughts, again via LeBrun:

“My answer to that is why is he hitting me at all? It has no impact on the play whatsoever. You know Evgeni Malkin is pretty aware of his surroundings on the ice, he’s one of the top players in the league. I think he knows who has the puck and who doesn’t have the puck. If I’m him and I’m hitting a guy like that, it’s a cheap shot. Because I know I’m doing that. That’s to me how I see it.”

Jets coach Paul Maurice was also asked about the decision to suspend Trouba and had a very odd way of voicing his disagreement, deciding to talk about how frugal he is financially, pretty much suggesting that he does not want to say anything that would get him fined.

“What’s the truth? So we respectfully accept the decision while we disagree,” said Maurice, then briefly pausing before deciding to continue.

“I got one. I drive a 2011 Yukon. I bought it used. Because I’m cheap. Frugal. Frugality. Frugalness. I am not sure how you want to go with it. But my cheapness outweighs my disappointment. Fair enough?”

Sure is, coach! In other words: He does not like it, but he does not want to lose any of his paycheck for saying what he really thinks.

When asked if the lack of a suspension for Malkin weighed into his disappointment, he added “I would suggest that any of the spinal fractures that we have suffered over the past year would weigh into my disappointment.”

Trouba will miss the Jets’ games on Tuesday against Toronto and then their Feb. 28 game against Minnesota following their bye week.

He will be eligible to return on March 3 against the St. Louis Blues.

Isles hit the road for whopping nine-game stretch

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 05:  John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders  heads onto the ice before the game against the Edmonton Oilers at the Barclays Center on November 5, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) After climbing back into the playoff race with nearly unbeatable play at home the last month, the New York Islanders will need to quickly find a way to win on the road to preserve their postseason hopes.

Just a month ago, the Islanders were in last place in the conference. Now, they sit just two points behind Boston for the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. The turnaround has been keyed by a 9-0-2 record in their last 11 at Barclays Center – their longest points streak on home ice since 1982.

“We’ve somehow just got comfortable and we’ve gotten into a rhythm (at home),” forward Ryan Strome said. “We’ve got to try to obviously take that to the road if we want to make the playoffs.”

The Islanders have seven wins on the road, tied with Carolina and Dallas for the fewest in the league, and they play 17 of their final 24 games away from home. They’ll get that started with a franchise-record stretch of nine straight road games over a 19-day span due to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Atlantic Coast Conference men’s college basketball tournament at Barclays Center.

“I think it’s good for us. We’ve been home a lot this year,” forward Andrew Ladd said. “To get the opportunity to go out on the road and spend some time together, it’s not a bad thing. We obviously have to figure out a way to win on the road and be more consistent.”

The strong play at home followed the coaching change on Jan. 17, when assistant Doug Weight was promoted on an interim basis to replace the fired Jack Capuano, who led the Islanders to their first postseason series win in 23 years last April. They were 17-17-8 and in last place in the East, eight games back of a playoff spot, at the time of the change.

The Islanders’ latest win — 6-4 against New Jersey on Sunday — pushed their overall mark to 10-4-2 since.

Weight said he planned to make some adjustments to the team’s routine during the upcoming road swing, including altering video and scouting sessions ahead of games. There also could be some line combination changes during games.

“We got to change things,” Weight said. “We don’t have a good feeling, not a good vibe on the road right now. … We’ve been (home) a lot and we’ve been great (at home) and it’s been a crutch. Hopefully, we can get on the road and get together as a team and start to be that good road team that I believe we can be.”

The stretch of road games will be broken into two trips. The Islanders begin a three-game, five-day trip at Detroit on Tuesday night. After facing Columbus on Saturday, they’ll return home for several days before visiting the Stars on March 2 to start a six-game, 10-day trip.

“It’s a lot of big games in a short period of time,” forward Casey Cizikas said. “We got to be ready and just take it one game at a time but know the importance of each game. … We got to play a full 60 (minutes). We can’t come out with flat starts.”

Last season, the Islanders won six of seven on a trip around the same time on the calendar, and that helped lead them to a second straight playoff appearance. They’ll need similar success to boost their chances to make it three years in a row.

The Islanders don’t return to Brooklyn until they host the Hurricanes on March 13. They are still far short of the 30-game home point streak set 35 years ago – in the midst of their run of four straight Stanley Cup titles. That stretch – which came before teams earned a point for losses in overtime and when there weren’t shootouts to decide ties after the extra period – included a 21-0-2 mark to end the 1981-82 season and a 7-0-0 start to the 1982-83 campaign.

Trade: Canadiens send Philip Samuelsson to Hurricanes for Keegan Lowe

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 25:  President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe of the Edmonton Oilers and son 73rd overall pick Keegan Lowe by the Carolina Hurricanes look on during day two of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 25, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes completed a minor trade on Tuesday afternoon when the Canadiens sent defenseman Philip Samuelsson to the Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Keegan Lowe.

Neither player has played a game in the NHL this season and both will report to their respective AHL teams.

The most interesting aspect of this deal is that Samuelsson’s dad, former NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, is the head coach of the Hurricanes’ AHL team, the Charlotte Checkers.

Samuelsson, originally a second-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, has spent this season with the St. John’s IceCaps where he has one goal and four assists in 40 games. He has played in 13 games at the NHL level, most recently with Arizona last season, and has yet to record a point. He signed with the Canadiens over the summer as a free agent, inking a one-year, two-way deal.

Lowe, a second-round pick by the Hurricanes in 2011 and the son of former NHL player Kevin Lowe, has two games of NHL experience (both in 2014-15) and has spent the past two seasons playing in Charlotte. He has three goals and nine assists in 49 games this season. The Canadiens announced he will immediately report to St. John’s of the AHL.

Injuries adding up for Senators as Stone, Hoffman out tonight; Ryan to miss month

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 15: Mark Stone #61 of the Ottawa Senators skates with the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on November 15, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators, currently making a serious run at the top spot in the Atlantic Division, have been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL.

Unfortunately some major injuries are starting to hit them at the wrong time as they will be without several top forwards on Tuesday night when they take on the New Jersey Devils.

We already knew Bobby Ryan was going to be sidelined due to a hand injury, but coach Guy Boucher confirmed on Tuesday that the veteran winger is going to miss 4-6 weeks due to a broken finger. Adding to the injury issues on Tuesday is the fact forwards Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone will also be sidelined.

Stone, who was injured on Sunday night when he was on the receiving end of a Jacob Trouba hit that resulted in a two-game suspension, is going to miss the game due to a neck injury and there remains no timetable for his return.

Hoffman was also injured in that game against the Jets and will not play on Tuesday due to a groin injury.

These are some pretty significant injuries to the Senators, especially when it comes to Hoffman and Stone, two of the top-four scorers on the team and two of their most dangerous offensive players. The injury to Stone couldn’t have come at a worse time for him, either, as he has been on a roll over the past month, recording 13 points in the team’s past 13 games, including a five-point game against Toronto on Saturday night.

Entering play on Tuesday the Senators are just two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. A Senators win in New Jersey, combined with a Montreal loss in regulation to the Rangers, would move the Senators into a first-place tie and for the time being give them the edge on tiebreakers (fewer games played).