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?)

Yeo was ‘disappointed’ to see Hoppy the rabbit holding a ‘YEO MUST GO’ sign

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo argues a call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Thing have gone from bad to weird in Minnesota, where embattled Wild coach Mike Yeo was “disappointed” to see Zenon Konopka’s rabbit holding a sign that read, “YEO MUST GO.”

Hey, we told you things had gotten weird.

Konopka, a former Wild player, took to Twitter last night after Minnesota’s latest loss.

Here’s what Konopka tweeted:

And what did Yeo think about that?

“I really don’t care what he says,” he told the Star Tribune, apparently adding with a laugh, “I will say I was very disappointed to see Hoppy holding that sign.”

Now, according to the newspaper’s Michael Russo, “Konopka and Yeo had a lot of issues behind the scenes and that’s why [Konopka] ended up on waivers two Januarys ago.”

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of Wild fans agree with Hoppy, er, Konopka, and it doesn’t change the fact that the Wild could really, really use a win tomorrow at home to Washington.

Video: Anisimov, Niskanen, McDavid star in Goals of the Week

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Nice work from Artem Anisimov and Matt Niskanen this week, but Connor McDavid‘s tally is on a different level.

You can pretty much bank on McDavid being in Goals of the Year, too. Just saying.

Oilers demote Nilsson, recall AHL standout Brossoit

Edmonton Oilers goalie Anders Nilsson, of Sweden, makes pad save against the Colorado Avalanche during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Laurent Brossoit is getting another crack at the NHL.

On Wednesday, the Oilers announced they demoted Anders Nilsson — who, earlier this year, was carrying the starting gig in Edmonton — and recalled Brossoit from AHL Bakersfield.

Brossoit, 22, is an interesting story. Taken in the sixth round of the 2011 draft (164th overall), he’s really made strides over the last year. He made his big-league debut at the end of last season and performed extremely well, making 49 saves on 51 shots in a loss to San Jose.

This year, Brossoit was named an AHL All-Star. He’s posted a 14-8-3 record for the Condors thus far, with a 2.70 GAA and .921 save percentage.

As for Nilsson, his demotion comes after losing the starting gig to Cam Talbot. Nilsson has also struggled to find the good form shown in November, when he made 10 starts and posted a .915 save percentage.

In his last outing, the lanky Swede allowed three goals on 10 shots in an embarrassing 8-1 loss to the Isles.

Should the Bruins be sellers at the deadline?

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Not surprisingly, last night’s 9-2 loss to Milan Lucic and the Kings garnered no shortage of opinions on the state of the Boston Bruins.

For example, here’s CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty:

…the Bruins no longer have the kind of roster that can hold up in a ground-and-pound battle against the best of the West. Their 5-9-3 record against the Western Conference this season is clearly indicative of that. Julien pointed that out on Tuesday after watching his team get shellacked by the Kings and the point is valid: it’s probably time for the Bruins organization, the fans, the media and those around the league to wrap their minds around the concept that this season’s Bruins team can’t be held to the standard of past B’s teams.

They’re younger and quicker in some spots, but they’re also nowhere near as good.

And here’s ESPN’s Scott Burnside:

Yes, Boston owns a wild card spot as of Wednesday morning, but is anyone confident this is a team that can stay there, or make a dent if they get in?

WEEI’s DJ Bean had some thoughts:

Ultimately, the Bruins won’t need to worry about their record against good Western Conference teams because they sure as heck won’t be meeting them in the playoffs this season. Still, games like Tuesday against the Kings and the pre-break finale against the Ducks provide a nice reminder that despite hanging around in the East, the Bruins’ days of dominant play are well behind them. Given that they haven’t developed many young players and their core is only aging, that next wave of greatness could be pretty far away. 

And so too did NESN’s Jack Edwards, who opined during last night’s broadcast, “There has been a talent drain in Boston.”

Edwards was referring (again) to the once-vaunted Bruins defense that has struggled to replace Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton. Further complicating matters, at 38, Zdeno Chara is the third-oldest defenseman in the league.

Now, granted, it was only one game. Sometimes, a team just lays an egg. The Bruins are still in a good spot to make the playoffs.

That being said, even if they hadn’t lost so badly last night, the pressing question for the B’s would still be what GM Don Sweeney plans to do ahead of the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

Take winger Loui Eriksson, a 30-year-old pending unrestricted free agent who’s enjoying a fine season with 16 goals and 24 assists. He could net the Bruins a nice return.

True, losing Eriksson for picks and/or prospects would make the Bruins weaker in the short term. But with that defense, the reality is that the short term may not be salvageable anyway.

Related: Kevan Miller is not the problem for Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem