MILLER'S FOCUS REMAINS ON THE ICE
While many things have changed in the Buffalo Sabres front office, goaltender Ryan Miller says that for him, a lot of things remain the same.
He’s still the Sabres’ starting goaltender and, although he’s been the subject of trade talks the past two seasons, his job is still to keep pucks out of the net and give Buffalo a chance to win every night.
Miller looks to rebound from his performance against the New York Rangers on Thursday. He made 28 saves, but in his postgame comments, he wasn’t happy with any of the three goals he let in.
“My job remains the same. I have to respond with a better effort than I had against the Rangers and keep building my game, hopefully in anticipation of putting myself out there for USA Hockey and helping this team get on the right page here,” he said after practice Friday at First Niagara Center. “We’re improving in small areas and our games are becoming hockey games now instead of lopsided kind of events. We’re in games and we gotta find ways to win. Hopefully that’s coming.”
Pat LaFontaine is the new face of the hockey department as he took over as president of hockey operations last month. He’s currently in the process of finding a new general manager for the club and working to forging a new identity for the franchise. One of the decisions he will have to make concerns his goaltending situation. Miller is in the final year of his contract. Jhonas Enroth signed a two-year deal this summer.
Miller said he has had only “exploratory” talks with LaFontaine in terms in an effort to get to know him better.
“My thinking’s always been, wait to see what plan presents itself and it feels like I’ve been saying that for awhile, but things have shifted so much,” Miller said. “Even going back to last year, I said that was the same thing, but nothing happened in regards to my situation and that wasn’t in my control. It’s something where it’s still not completely under my control so I have to kind of wait and see what happens, see what the plan is.”
For the most part, the Sabres have adhered to the goaltending schedule that was in place before interim coach Ted Nolan was hired on Nov 13. Since then, Miller said that he, Nolan, Enroth and goaltender coach Jim Corsi have met to discuss how each goaltender’s energy levels can be maximized through a condensed schedule.
“It’s not all about right here in the moment, it’s projecting forward. We have some busy months ahead of us and a tough finish to the season. You have to think ahead sometimes,” Miller said. “When Ted got in here, we had to sort things out and let him know what we thought as goaltenders and as a group, what Jim Corsi and Jhonas and I are shooting for. I support the schedule moving forward because it’s going to give me a chance to be at my best game in and game out.”
Ted Nolan said earlier this week that he believes that having a great goaltender is a foundation or success.
“You look at all the championship teams and it starts from the goaltending out,” Nolan said Wednesday. “…You build around him versus use him as a pawn to try to get something to make you better. You learn to deal with the now as a coach. We’ve got one of the better goaltenders in the world here. I’d prefer to build around him, myself.”
Miller said he appreciated Nolan’s comments.
“It’s nice to hear. I appreciate that kind of gesture from someone who’s been around hockey for a long time,” he said. “…It’s nice that your coach believes in you, so I’ll take it as a positive, but again, there’s still a lot more to see around here.”
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist signed a new seven-year contract this week that will keep him in New York until he’s 39. Miller, 33, was asked if he thinks he might be able to keep playing that long.
“It’s not far away, so I’d like to think I can play,” he said. “I feel good now, it’s just trying to do some good things with this club and I still enjoy the challenge. I guess I don’t really picture myself stopping until they tell me to so as long as there’s a spot in the NHL, I think I’ll be competing and doing the best I can.
“Obviously I want to win a championship and feel that kind of team success and that would be something to shoot for. I’ll chase it as long as I can.”
The Sabres went 117:54 over two games before Tyler Ennis scored Thursday night with 2:06 remaining in the third period against New York. They’ve been getting opportunities, but have had trouble finishing their chances of late.
“We’re doing some things that we need to keep continuing to do,” Sabres center Cody Hodgson said. “That’s something that we can build off of and make sure we’re still doing that. That’s not something you get away from. You worry when you’re not getting chances, but it’s tough when you go two games without a goal. That’s tough.”
Hodgson also addressed the tripping penalty he took 7:11 into the third period. After being stopped on a partial breakaway by Lundqvist, he tripped Rangers forward Rick Nash in the corner while attempting to maintain possession of the puck. The Rangers scored on the ensuing power play to make it 2-0, making a Buffalo comeback extremely difficult.
“That was bad,” he said. “I have to hold on a little more. I thought I was going to lose it after getting hacked, but I just wanted to get away quick and I should’ve tried to hold on a little bit longer. Once the guy picked up the puck in the corner, I was actually just looking to slash the puck away and I took out his feet. That was a frustrating play and they score on it.”
Center Cody McCormick and defenseman Alexander Sulzer, who is on injured reserve, did not practice Friday. Nolan said that McCormick is “a little banged up” but expects him to be ready for the game Saturday in Montreal.
Rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko will travel to Russia this weekend to take part in the country’s selection camp in preparation of the IIHF World Junior Championship. Sabres management feels that participating in the tournament later this month will be extremely beneficial to his development.
“He has to go down there and be one of their best players. He can’t just go down and be a player. He has to be one of their best players,” Nolan said. “Once you dominate one level, it gets you ready for the next level. You go through the history of all those young stars, they all have to do it.”
26 Matt Moulson – 19 Cody Hodgson – 21 Drew Stafford
9 Steve Ott – 23 Ville Leino – 27 Matt D’Agostini
72 Luke Adam – 63 Tyler Ennis – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
32 John Scott – 65 Brian Flynn – 82 Marcus Foligno