It's just five days into the preseason, but Ryan Miller looks like he's in midseason form.
The 2010 Vezina Trophy winner stopped 33 shots and Jason Pominville scored a tie-breaking power-play goal with 7:33 left in regulation Friday night to give the Buffalo Sabres a 2-1 win at Toronto in the opener of a home-and-home series.
Miller was at his best in the second period, when he stopped 14 of 15 shots as the Leafs dominated play.
"I thought Ryan made a couple of really, really big ones in the second period, he made a couple of spectacular ones too, he held us in there when we weren’t really playing very well," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said after his team won its third game in as many tries.
The game was tied 1-1 when Toronto defenseman Cody Franson took a holding penalty with 8:04 remaining -- and the Sabres capitalized when Pominville, who was parked to the right of James Reimer, fired the rebound of Christian Ehrhoff’s shot from the left circle into the net.
The Leafs put pressure on Miller in the final minute after pulling Reimer in favor of an extra attacker, but could only muster a goalmouth scramble with 21 seconds left. After the scrum, which saw almost every skater on the ice in or around the crease, a melee broke out resulting in misconducts to Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta and Toronto's Clarke Macarthur.
The Sabres, who improved to 3-0-0 in the preseason, host the Leafs at the First Niagara Center on Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET (NHL Network-US).
The Sabres owned the first half of the opening period and went ahead by capitalizing on a Toronto miscue. Defenseman Keith Aulie attempted to kick the puck to his stick but lost it to Matt Ellis. The Buffalo forward slid the puck toward the net, where 21-year-old Cory Tropp picked it up and put a backhander past Reimer for his first of the preseason.
Ruff was thrilled with the play of the two youngsters.
"I thought Matty Ellis made a heck of play to getting the over top on that play and getting it back towards the front of the net," he said. "Corey down low is really strong... He’s got some toughness, some offense, a little bit of everything, he spent the summer working real hard, I think its paid some dividends for him, he’s got the tools to play, tonight he made a big statement that he can add some depth to this hockey club."
Miller stopped all seven shots he faced in the first period; his last save was from in close against former teammate Tim Connolly, who signed with the Leafs this summer. Buffalo has not allowed a first-period goal in three games this preseason.
Miller made several fine saves in the first five minutes of the second period, including a good right pad save on a high wrister from the slot by Phil Kessel, who tried to finish off a passing play with Connolly.
"Miller made some big saves for them. He's a good goaltender, you've got to get traffic in front of him and get him moving and he made some key saves," Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles said. "Obviously you have to focus on him each and every game, but we'll continue to try to do those things and try to get traffic in front of him."
Kessel finally tied the game at 8:42 by sliding the puck under Miller after Liles' initial scoring attempt from in close was stopped. 2009 first-rounder Nazem Kadri drew the second assist on the goal and created several chances for himself and his teammates as he works to earn a roster spot.
Midway through the third period, Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf leveled Michael Ryan as he made an outlet pass just over his own blue line. While Leafs GM Brian Burke and the Air Canada Centre crowd may have liked the hit, Phaneuf was assessed two minutes for what was officially labeled unsportsmanlike conduct. There was a serenade of boos as Phaneuf was escorted to the penalty box.
"I felt it was a clean hit, the principle point of contact was his shoulders, that’s not a head shot by what’s going to be in the rule book or by the video. Part of why we have exhibition games is not only for the players to sort out the new rules and their own games but for the referees to gradually get used to the new rules, it’s probably harder for the referees to make these adjustments when they’ve been called it a certain way for a number of years," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said.
The Leafs killed off that penalty but were unable to do the same with Franson's holding call.
Buffalo center Derek Roy left the game with just over five minutes remaining in the first period and did not return, Ruff indicated Roy injured his shoulder but said it was nothing serious.