I was thinking about the Buffalo Sabres goalie situation I realized that we have been spoiled by all-world goaltending for more than a decade. We watched in amazement while Dominik Hasek was wowing us with his "slinky for a spine" in the 90's and now we have Ryan Miller bringing us out of our seats and yelling "We're Not Worthy". It's no wonder we are so critical of our backup goalies, who could live up to those standards?
Instead of focusing on the backup goalie, let's talk a little bit about Ryan Miller. As good as Miller has been throughout his career, he is off to the his best start ever. He leads the NHL with a 1.88 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. He is also tied with Ilya Bryzgalov, of the Phoenix Coyotes, for the league lead in shutouts with four.
The Sabres have struggled offensively this season and have relied heavily on the play of Miller. He has played in 28 of the teams 32 games and he was the only goalie to win a game until Patrick Lalime made 39 saves in a 2-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks last Friday. Miller still has all but one of the Sabres wins and his record is now 19-7-2.
Miller has been so good that his name has been mentioned along with the Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie) and even the Hart Trophy (League MVP). While watching Miller play this season has been fun, it is never his play in the beginning of the season that has been criticized; it has always been his durability that has been questioned.
Those questions have been even more prevalent this season because Miller is expected to be the starting goalie for the United States at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver during the month of February. Many people thought Lindy Ruff would do his best to rest Miller early in the season but it has been exactly the opposite. Miller has been the go-to guy for the Sabres and has played in more back-to-back games than I ever remember.
Could the added workload of the Olympics and the inconsistency of the Sabres backup become an issue for Miller and the Sabres?
Fear not Sabres fans because Miller will be fine as the season wears on. While his stats during the month of March have been consistently bad throughout his career, but it had no bearing on how many games he played in a specific season. I have worked the stats from the past couple of seasons to give you a glimpse of his stats by month.
|2005-2006 Regular Season||2005-2006 Playoffs|
When you factor in his playoff performances you can see that his statistical decline does not reflect the number of games played. The above stats are not perfect because they don't factor in his quality of competition. Although there are many factors that affect the stats of a goalie, I think the above chart will give you an indication of how games played do not affect Miller.
I mentioned my surprise with how many games Miller has played in the early part of the season but the strategy makes sense. Last season the Sabres thought they would coast into the playoffs but after Miller was injured they crumbled. Lindy Ruff wants to get as many points as possible before the Olympic break so the team ca coast if they need to. The strategy makes sense, Miller should be rested after the Olympics instead of before.