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?)

Lindholm in Sweden, won’t report to Ducks until contract signed

Hampus Lindholm
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Yesterday, we passed along news of Hampus Lindholm‘s contract demands — reportedly eight years, at least $6 million per — and news that the prized young d-man has been training in Sweden.

Now, his agent has confirmed Lindholm won’t be leaving Sweden until the deal gets done.

“Our plan is to report to the team once we have a contract signed,” said Claude Lemieux, per the O.C. Register. “Until then Hampus is training in Sweden.”

The 22-year-old is currently skating with SHL club Rogle BK, the same team Lindholm played for prior to getting drafted sixth overall in 2012.

The Ducks are already two games into their preseason schedule, and will play their third on Saturday in Arizona. From there, Anaheim has four exhibition games remaining — against the Kings, Oilers and two against the Sharks — before opening the regular season on Oct. 13 in Dallas.

Lemieux confirmed to the Register that they’re working on a “long-term agreement” for Lindholm, adding that both he and Ducks GM Bob Murray are “working on getting this resolved ASAP.”

The Ducks certainly need Lindholm in the lineup. He led all blueliners in goals last year, with 10, and averaged 22 minutes per night, second only to Cam Fowler on defense.

Penguins to visit White House next week

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12: The Pittsburgh Penguins pose for their photo with the Stanley Cup after their teams 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California. The Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the San Jose Sharks 3-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins will visit President Obama at the White House on Thursday (Oct. 6).

These White House visits don’t always occur during the preseason (the 2015 champs from Chicago went in February, for example), but as you might have heard, there’s an election in November.

This will be the Penguins’ second visit with President Obama. They first met him after winning in 2009, during his first term. That visit actually occurred in early September, before the Pens even reported to training camp.

“With the Steelers and Penguins, I guess it’s a good time to be a sports fan in Pittsburgh,” Obama said during the visit.

“I was complaining about this,” he then joked. “It’s been a while since Chicago won anything.”

The next year, the Blackhawks won their first Cup since 1961.

Hossa going ‘year-by-year,’ as his contract begins to dive

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 09:  Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks talks to a teammate against the San Jose Sharks at the United Center on February 9, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Sharks defeated the Blackhawks 2-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Marian Hossa has one of those long-term, back-diving contracts they don’t let players sign anymore.

When he signed the 12-year deal, all the way back in 2009, it was generally assumed he’d retired before it expired. (Remember, the NHL didn’t have the “cap recapture” penalty then; that was brought in a few years later.)

This season, his salary dips to $4 million, from the $7.9 million he was paid in the first seven years of his deal. After that, it’s just $1 million in each of the final four years, per General Fanager.

So, does the assumption that he’ll retire before his contract expires still hold?

“I go year-by-year right now and I try to not focus on five years,” Hossa said, per the Chicago Tribune. “At this point, you never know what can happen. You know, too many injuries or these things can slow you down. Or anything can change. But right now I feel pretty good so I try to go for it.”

Hossa can still play, make no mistake. His point production fell dramatically last season, and it remains to be seen if he’ll skate with Jonathan Toews in Chicago’s top six, or if he’ll be knocked down to the third line. But anyone who watched him during the World Cup knows he can still play.

That being said, at 37, he’s one of the oldest players in the NHL. In fact, last season, there were only 10 forwards who were older, and that list will only grow shorter this season.

So, will Hossa play five more years, until he’s 42? It will be incredible if he does. And if he doesn’t, will the Blackhawks incur a recapture penalty? Or will some sort of injury allow them to escape it?

That all remains to be seen.

“My goal is to play to where I can play my level,” he said, “and if not, go from there.”

Related: Quenneville thinks Hossa ‘could be’ the next Jagr or Selanne

Landeskog to remain captain under Bednar, his third head coach in Colorado

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 17:  Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche looks on during a break in the action against the Montreal Canadiens at Pepsi Center on February 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canadiens 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Per the Denver Post, new Colorado head coach Jared Bednar has informed Gabriel Landeskog he will remain Avs captain this season.

It’s a speech Landeskog has heard before.

Originally named captain back in 2012 under then-head coach Joe Sacco, Landeskog retained the “C” when the Avs fired Sacco in favor of Patrick Roy, and now retains it again over the third coaching change of his young career.

“It needs to be said that I respected Patty on and off the ice and I enjoyed working with him for three years,” Landeskog said, per the Post. “But I’m really exited about having Jared here. It feels like he brings in a lot of fresh air and comes in with a lot of optimism about this group.

“It feels like he believes in us.”

Landeskog is certainly one to watch this season. His game has gone in a bit of a strange direction since capturing the Calder in 2012, marked by a steady decline in offense (from 65 points in ’13-14, to 59 in ’14-15, to 53 last year) and an increase in disciplinary issues.

The 23-year-old was suspended three games in March for a “reckless and irresponsible” cross-check on Ducks d-man Simon Despres. Landeskog was visibly upset about his actions, especially given his leadership role and the fact the Avs were battling for their playoff lives.

But there were signs of a somewhat reckless player prior to the Despres incident. Last November, he was suspended two games for a dangerous hit on Brad Marchand.

These incidents could be why there was some question if Landeskog would retain his captaincy under Bednar.

On that note, one thing to mention — while Landeskog will keep wearing the “C”, it sounds as though there’ll be changes under him in the leadership group. Bednar said the alternate captain positions, previously held by veterans Jarome Iginla and Cody McLeod — are up for grabs.

The assistant captains and what we do with the rest of the group will be evaluated and then we’ll make decisions on that later on and whether it’s two guys, four guys, all the things that we want to consider as an organization,” Bednar said, per the Post. “We’re going to take the camp to evaluate it, just as we evaluate their play through camp and exhibition.”