Ryan Miller, the St. Louis Blues newest goalie has backstopped the team very well over his first 9 games, but there have been plenty of situations that would be a cause for concern if the playoffs were already underway. Though he has an impressive stat sheet as a Blue, there is always room for improvement when you’re chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup.
It’s Miller Time St. Louis
When news of the long speculated trade sending former Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak and power forward Chris Stewart to Buffalo in exchange for former Vezina winner/Silver Medalist Ryan Miller and Buffalo’s captain Steve Ott, the city was enthralled. Finally we have a true number 1 goalie who’s calm demeanor gives confidence throughout the locker room and into the stands, and a battle tested veteran who is seemingly the final piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle. The fans came out in record numbers to wish the newest members great luck moving forward, in hopes of breaking the curse of the gritty hard-nosed team that has been called Chicago’s “little red-headed step brother” in decades past.
— Ryan Miller (@RyanMiller3039) March 5, 2014
Miller was welcomed in the Gateway to the West with open arms and a standing ovation, something that helped get him settled in to do his job the way only he can. Over his first 9 games Ryan Miller has been able to show why he’s such an asset, even if he lets in a weak goal every now and then. His 7-1-1 record is complimented nicely by his 1.93 GAA and 92.3% save percentage, numbers that until the Notes last game in Chicago (a 4-0 loss) were even better. Some fans may ask what else we need from the All-Star netminder to boost the team’s already sound game going into the playoffs, but those not focused on individual plays may be surprised to find themselves signing the blues in late-April.
‘N Sync: Not Just a Silly 90’s Boy Band, But THE Way to Play
Though you can’t argue with the Blues record since acquiring Ryan Miller and Steve Ott, there is an opportunity to read between the lines. The St. Louis Blues have rode the calm and focused wake of their new goaltender to some impressive comeback wins which has been a joy to watch as a fan, but they have not come without their trials. In the first several games as a Blue, Miller let up some rather questionable goals early in said contests to force the team to come from behind, such as this Alex Killorn goal below.
Obviously this game ended up in the Blues’ favor, and was the beginning of the Blues last solid run, gaining points in 9 straight. However, if you fast forward this scenario to mid-April’s Stanley Cup playoffs when every game matters (and where some games could end your season), you start to see the minute gaps in Miller’s play. Before you get too worried though, this is not a huge deal yet, but it does have the potential to turn into one if things start to fall apart for the team and their newest goaltender. There is good news on the horizon as well, as Miller is a seasoned veteran who has continued to look more and more confident behind the team in recent games, stepping up in big moments as needed. Let’s hope his professional disposition and clockwork type presence, mixed with his sweet new mask (displayed below) put the Chicago loss deep in his rear-view.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) March 20, 2014
Conformity is Key
While early goals can lead to playoff losses rather easily, this is becoming less and less of a problem as the final regular season games roll on. The team is getting settled in together, and the players are starting to mold themselves back into a cohesive unit hell bent on crashing the net, peppering opposing goalies, and playing stellar in their own zone. This will need to continue to ensure a long playoff run, especially through the heavy-hitting and highly skilled Western Conference. The Blues’ team will need to continue to develop on-ice conversation to erase gaps in their play, and chinks in their armor. Rest assured, Ryan Miller will be the consistent goalie the team needs to focus on their offensive play, and should continue to boost the team’s confidence game after game.
Over Commitment: The Blues D and Miller’s Style of Play
The biggest piece to the Blues Stanley Cup puzzle will be if the team can find the right mixture of coverage in their own zone. Ryan Miller is a goalie who loves to attack his angles, and be sharp and decisive with his movements. This means he does get caught over committing from time to time (just see the video above), which could cause some playoff losses in tight games. This problem does not solely lie with Ryan Miller though, the Blues defense must get used to the way he plays, and make sure that they back-check a full 200 feet in order to tie up every loose man in front so that when Miller does commit to the shot, the opposing player doesn’t have any slot or backdoor options (or any options besides shooting right into Miller for that matter).
If the team can continue to gel, and focus on making every shift count, I am certain we will be watching them play into June. They simply have too many valuable assets who are primed for a Cup run to fizzle out as in years’ past. However, if Ryan Miller and his fellow Blues teammates cannot find a way to get on the same page and shut down the impressive grit and skill the Western Conference has to offer, then it will be another long summer for the team. The good news is, as long as the team can stay healthy, they should gel just fine and be ready for the biggest test of their careers en route to bringing the Stanley Cup to St. Louis for the first time ever.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.