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?)

Video: Gudbranson and Martin drop the gloves in spirited scrap

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We asked earlier tonight if the bad blood between the Canucks and Leafs would spill over into tonight’s rematch. It had been pretty tame — unlike what occurred last month.

But there were some fireworks and, as expected following the events of Nov. 5, the combatants were Canucks defenseman Erik Gudbranson and Maple Leafs tough guy Matt Martin.

The two dropped the gloves for a heavyweight scrap during the second period, with both landing some major shots.

 

Avalanche captain Landeskog (lower-body injury) could make upcoming road trip

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. the Ducks defeated the Avalanche 5-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Placed on injured reserve earlier this week, Gabriel Landeskog may be close to returning to the Colorado Avalanche lineup.

Out with a lower-body injury for the past eight games, including tonight’s home contest against the Dallas Stars, Landeskog reportedly skated briefly with his teammates on Saturday. Head coach Jared Bednar provided more reason for optimism on the condition of the Colorado captain when he spoke to the media.

“He’s been working in the gym the last couple of days,” Bednar told the Denver Post.

“He’s been progressing. He feels better again today. He skated slightly on his own there for a few minutes, and that seemed to go well. I’ve already talked to (trainer Matt Sokolowski) about that. I would expect he’s a guy who’s going to continue to move forward here and probably be on the road trip with us.”

The Avalanche could certainly use their leader in the lineup.

They sit tied for last in the West with the Arizona Coyotes and Bednar, earlier this week, ripped his team for a lack of intensity following a 5-3 loss to Nashville on Tuesday.

The Avalanche begin a four-game road trip on Tuesday, as they face the Predators.

The Predators coughed up a three-goal lead in OT loss to Devils

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 14:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators stretches during a timeout against the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena on October 14, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Michael Cammalleri‘s second goal of the game with 18 seconds remaining on the clock in overtime capped New Jersey’s comeback from three goals down in the third period and gave the Devils a 5-4 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Taylor Hall took a pass from Cammalleri and brought the puck up the right side into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 break, passed it back to Cammalleri cutting up the middle and he fired it past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.

Cammalleri started the Devils’ comeback from a 4-1 deficit after two as he fired a rebound into an open net 25 seconds into the third.

Andy Greene pulled New Jersey within one 30 seconds later and Adam Henrique tied it with a power-play goal through Rinne’s legs with 7:23 remaining.

Hall had a goal and two assists, Travis Zajac also had two assists and Green added one for the Devils, who were 0-4-2 in their previous six road games. Keith Kincaid stopped 38 shots to improve to 3-1-2.

Kevin Fiala had two goals and P.K. Subban and Roman Josi also scored for the Predators, who fell to 9-1-2 at home. Rinne, a five-time All-Star, gave up five goals on 22 shots.

New Jersey evened its record to 6-6 in games beyond regulation, and Nashville fell to 0-4.

Fiala gave the Predators a 1-0 lead when Matt Irwin‘s point shot appeared to bounce off him into the net with 3:46 left in the first.

Hall tied it 1:17 later when he swatted a rebound out of the air past Rinne.

Nashville went back ahead on Subban’s wrist shot from the slot with 39 seconds left in the opening period. Five of Subban’s six goals have come at home.

Fiala’s second goal increased the Predators lead to 3-1 on a tic-tac-toe play from Craig Smith and Mike Ribeiro at 6:02 of the second period.

Josi extended the Predators’ advantage to 4-1 when he blasted a one-timer from just inside the center of blue line past Kinkaid with 5:29 left in the second.

Oilers lose Nurse for the ‘long term’ with a lower-body injury

Edmonton Oilers v Arizona Coyotes
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Tough news for the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

The Oilers have lost sophomore defenseman Darnell Nurse for the ‘long term’ with a lower-body injury, coach Todd McLellan told reporters. In 25 games this season, the 21-year-old Nurse has three goals and five points.

Another update is expected at a later time from general manager Peter Chiarelli, although it was speculated in the Edmonton Sun that the injury could be a broken foot. McLellan said the injury occurred against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

From the Edmonton Sun:

With Nurse going on injured reserve, Mark Fayne, who was on waivers a week ago but was recalled when Eric Gryba was hurt in practice, will play his first game since injuring his knee against Carolina Oct. 18. He only played 2:27 in that game. Fayne will likely play with Oscar Klefbom. Matt Benning will be with Andrej Sekera.

The Oilers also recalled defenceman Dillon Simpson from the Bakersfield Condors as a seventh guy. Brandon Davidson (shoulder) is skating and practising but is a week to 10 days from playing. He could find his way into the top six when deemed ready, too.

The Oilers host the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday. These two teams are tied with 28 points in the Pacific Division. The winner tonight takes over sole possession of second in the division.