By: Doug Forhecz
There appears to be a growing sense around the league, now being fooled with seeming outlandish trade rumors, that Ryan Miller just is not himself. For the season Miller sports a pedestrian 14-15-3 record with a 2.88 goals against average. Those statistics do not reflect the talent level of the 2010 Vezina trophy winner. Miller has won at least 34 games in each year since 2006 with a goals against as low as 2.22 in 2010. Over that span his save percentage has consistently been around the .915 range, and was as high as .929 in 2010. He is an elite goalie. He just can’t seem to find his game this year. It certainly was nowhere to be found in the Nassau Coliseum last night.
Miller can’t be blamed for allowing the games first goal after a careless giveaway by defenseman Mike Weber led to a Frans Nielsen goal off of a centering pass. However, Miller just couldn’t seem to bounce back. Miller would allow tow more goals in the final four minutes of a first period that was completely dominated by the Sabres. As an Islander penalty was expiring, Miller seemed to over slide on a Frans Nielsen centering pass to Josh Bailey. The forwards were only strides apart, but Miller appeared to push off the post as though he was going all the way across the crease. He made a pad save on Bailey’s initial chance but was left out of position for the easy rebound goal. A little more than a minute later Miller appeared over aggressive in an effort to poke a harmless puck away from his crease. It went directly out to Frans Nielsen, who fired it through a square Miller to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead to close out the first. It would be the third goal Miller allowed on his first 8 shots.
You wouldn’t be able to tell by the score, but Buffalo controlled most of the game. They out shot the Islanders 17-9 in the first period and shots blocked in the frame. Islander Goaltender Al Montoya seemed to be fighting the puck early on. After a Travis Hamonic give away at the blueline, Nathan Gerbe’s harmless wrist shot bounced off Montoya’s shoulder and fluttered softly over his head into the net. It seemed to take Montoya a moment to realize the play resulted in a goal. He struggled with three or four rebounds in the first half of the game, seemingly unaware that the puck was behind him at times.
Considering how significantly the home team was out played through the course of the game, it would be unfair to say that Montoya played poorly. In contrast he seemed very strong in net after he was able to get his feet under him. So did Miller, in fact. The difference was that once the goaltenders had settled into the game the Islanders held a 3-1 advantage.
As is sometimes customary for young teams, the Islanders could not seem to string together consistent quality shifts while the held the lead. Montoya made a strong save on a giveaway by Josh Bailey in front of the net, while defenseman Andrew MacDonald managed to block a shot on his own net mouth turnover. Frankly, good teams don’t turn the puck over in front of their own net, or in their own zone for that matter with a two goal lead.
It would eventually come back to sting them. Mark Eaton just seemed to fall asleep on the play that led to the tying goal. John Tavares lost a faceoff just outside his own zone and Eaton lackadaisically gave an inside lane to Sabres winger Brad Boyes. The play was defended well and the puck was pushed back to the blueline. However, as Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers held the puck in the zone at the line, Eaton inexplicably drifted out as high as the top of the circle to cover Brad Boyes.
This left Steve Staois vulnerable down low in an odd man situation. He was unable to commit to center Paul Gaustad as he took a pass from Myers and lifted it over Montoya. Eaton, who did not play Tuesday night in Raleigh, may find himself on the bench again shortly, particularly if coach Jack Capuano considers the physical effort put for by Dylan Reese in his first game since the all star break.
Montoya’s counterpart was strong at the end of the third into overtime. He made nine saves in the extra session that included a full length Islander powerplay. Mark Streit appeared to have a few prime opportunities to one-time a John Tavares pass at the top of the formation, he consistently chose to wait a moment, or pass the puck off perhaps just trying to be certain that he could get the puck through the Sabres collapsed three man triangle. Regardless, Miller held them off the board through the powerplay, the overtime, and the ensuing shootout. Quality shootout efforts from Brad Boyes and Jason Pominville sealed the win for the Sabres. Montoya did not seem to react well to either try. The Islanders, as a team, did not seem to react well to game that unfolded before them through evening.
Milan Jurcina missed the game with an elbow laceration, suffered Friday in Ottawa. Brian Rolston was once again a healthy scratch. Matt Moulson had some difficulty moving around late in the game after blocking two hard shots. Travis Hamonic left the contest early in the third after being cut by a puck to the face. The game leaves the Islanders and Sabres tied towards the bottom of the east with 50 points. New York returns to the ice Tuesday night in Philadelphia at 7:00 p.m.