By Chris Gordon
Photo: Patrick McDermott
The Buffalo Sabres are a disastrously bad hockey team. Twice in two weeks, though, they’ve shut down the Washington Capitals, holding them to just two goals total. Each time, the Caps generated plenty of offensive opportunities. Ryan Miller, however, stood in the way. In those games, Miller has stopped 77 of 79 shots against.
“I try to stay pretty calm in the the net,” Miller said when I asked him about containing Washington’s talented forwards. “Sometimes the mindset is to challenge those guys and they just pass around you.”
The Sabres pitiful play is well documented. Sunday’s win was their first one the road since November 5, an 11 game losing streak. A lot has changed since then. They fired their GM, Darcy Regier, and coach, Ron Rolston. Under new bench boss Ted Nolan, they are — at least — no longer historically bad. Buffalo’s record now stands at a sterling 13-26-5.
“It’s already gotten too far, but it’s something the guys can feel good about,” Miller said of the streak. “I think tonight was a good opportunity to reset.”
For Miller, it doesn’t matter. He’s likely in his final days in Buffalo, either to be dealt away or to sign with another team this summer. For now, though, Miller is still a Sabre, still capable of stealing games for them. He did that against the Caps, making a remarkable stick save on Mikhail Grabovski late in third period to keep the game tied. Eventually, the Sabres won in the shootout on the back on Miller’s 28 saves.
In a month, Miller is off to Sochi to play for Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The savior of the 2010 silver medal winning squad, Miller’s spot was in question this year. Thanks to his poor defense, the 33-year-old’s numbers have taken a hit this year, with Miller posting a record of 12-18-1 and a goals against average of 2.58. Still, his save percentage of .928 is good for fifth in the league. Sunday, chants of “U-S-A” broke out at Verizon Center after Miller’s save on Grabovski.
“Everyone has always been great going to another building,” Miller said. “The Olympics has such a big impact on the world of sport and especially hockey. I’m glad that I could positively affect so many American fans and that they would think that way of me. Most of the time you heard it the other way in the rinks. It’s nice to be in an American building and have that support.”
Miller is likely to faceoff against Alex Ovechkin in the Games, which are being held in Ovi’s home country. Just like in the NHL, Miller knows it will be a struggle to contain the hottest player in the world in Sochi.
“He’s strong,” the goalie said of Ovi. “He can shoot from most any position because he’s so strong. His hands can be in front of him, behind him, he can whip it, slap it — his backhand is pretty good too.”
“He’s a bull,” Miller concluded.
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