What is going on with Ryan Miller?
If you are a Buffalo Sabres fan then you have likely been asking that question on a daily basis lately. Since he took over as the club’s full-time starter in 2006, Miller has been the Sabres franchise player and the organization has always been able to count on him to be the backbone of the team.
Having posted 30+ wins in every season since that time, Miller has established himself as one of the best goalies in the NHL, but the 2011-2012 season hasn’t been a good one for Miller. In fact, it has been a nightmare.
With Buffalo struggling as a team and falling out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, Miller is having by far the worst statistical season of his career. Currently holding a record of 11-13-2, a ballooned 3.12 GAA and a poor 0.89 save percentage, the 31-year-old has been anything but the backbone of the team this year. While a goaltender’s stats are often a reflection of the team in front of him, anyone who has seen some of the goals that Miller has let in lately, would agree that the blame cannot be entirely placed on the team.
Injuries have plagued the Sabres all season but in the past it was always Miller who could be counted on to keep the team afloat when they weren’t at their best. That hasn’t been the case this year and the question of just what is wrong with the star net-minder is becoming very intriguing and it is where the date November 12, 2011 comes into play.
It was on that night in a game against the Boston Bruins that Miller’s season seemingly became unglued.
If you’ve seen the particular play, it is something that has probably become etched in your mind. On one end you’ve got the Buffalo goalie racing far out of his crease to play the puck. On the other end you have Boston’s punishing forward Milan Lucic skating full steam toward the same puck that Miller is going for.
Something big was bound to happen. And it did.
Perhaps frusturated that he had been beaten to the puck by a slow-skating goalie with large equipment or perhaps put off by the fact that the goalie had wandered so far from his crease, Lucic slammed his powerful 6’4, 220 pound body into Miller’s frail 6’2, 175 pound frame. The contact was thunderous and as one would expect from the discrepancy in the size of the two players, Miller was sent flying in a spiraling manner and thudded to the ice.
Momentarily stunned by what had happened, Miller’s first reaction was too swing his stick at Lucic who was already bracing for the retaliation he figured would quickly be coming his way. But it never did. Aside from a little pushing and shoving, and the usual face-washes, none of the Buffalo players were ever really able to get at Lucic; something they were heavily criticized for.
Miller remained in the game for the rest of the period but did not return for the third, and after the game he held nothing back in referring to the play as a “gutless” hit by Lucic. It was later revealed that Miller had suffered a concussion on the play, but despite his injury the NHL decided against suspending Lucic.
The decision to leave Lucic unpunished further infuriated Miller who expressed his disappointment at the decision. “”I’m disappointed but it’s out of my control,” he told reporters. “I had my sound bite, you guys know how I feel. I don’t think that’s changed much. There are two sides to go to, and they chose to go in that direction.”
Returning to action on December 3, Miller recovered quicker than most do from a concussion, but he has been unable to get his game back to the level that he has time and time again shown to be capable of performing at.
Did the hit leave him in a such a rattled state that he has been unable to regain his focus? Did the NHL’s decision not to suspend Lucic cause him so much discontent that it has left him wondering when the next possible career-threatening “collision” will take place?
Whatever the reason, it is clear that something is not right with his game. Shots that he would normally turn into routine saves are now ending up behind him and where he would often go games without allowing a bad goal, he is now giving them up at an alarming rate.
Only Ryan Miller knows what is going on between his ears, but he needs to clear it up and the Buffalo Sabres badly need their franchise goaltender to return to being just that.