NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick
pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" appears every Wednesday and includes Roenick's sharp, can't-miss opinions on What's Clicking and What's Missing in the National Hockey League.
As I continue to look at the playoff race, my focus this week is on the Eastern Conference, specifically the red-hot Sabres and the ice-cold Jets.
We have to talk about Ryan Miller
and the Buffalo Sabres
I don't think there is a hotter player in the National Hockey League than Miller right now. It's not even just his stats, though. It was how he responded in that trip out west about a month ago.
This guy had a horrible start. He let up bad goals, was getting hit -- he just wasn't himself. I don't know what happened, but he went out west and he made 43 saves in a shutout against Anaheim, 39 saves in a shutout against San Jose, and 32 saves in a win at Vancouver.
His confidence just went soaring off the charts.
Even more than that, the team has backed up Miller in a big-time way. They have come a long way from the time when Milan Lucic
smoked Miller earlier in the season and they got a lot of criticism from people saying they were not protecting their goalie.
Now their goalie has stepped up like this, and the rest of the team has rallied behind him. Everybody has picked up their game, their level of play.
You have to be afraid of the Buffalo Sabres
right now with the way they are rolling and as well as Miller is playing. This is a great hockey city, and it is one that deserves to have a team that is on this type of run.
The Sabres are about ready to do something amazing, and that's be in 15th place less than two months ago and still get into the playoffs with a magical run.
Hats off to the Buffalo Sabres
Hats off to Ryan Miller
for having the ability to go through a terrible slump, battle an injury, have people question him, deal with trade rumors -- all different types of adversity. It takes a strong man to be able to do that, to overcome that, and Miller is showing people now why he is one of the best goaltenders in the world.
I was one of the guys who was critical of him. We said it right here in this blog earlier this season. But just as I was critical of him, I now have to give him huge amounts of credit for playing big when the stakes are this high.
It's really a fantastic story.
The Winnipeg Jets
are an easy target for good reason. They've won only one of their last five games.
You just can't have this happen if you're the Jets, especially in a city like Winnipeg.
These Jets fans have absolutely given the team one of the best home-ice advantages in all of hockey, but being as close as they are to the playoffs this year with that fan support, it's really just disappointing that the Jets have fallen out of the race by losing such big games at such a critical time.
It's not for lack of effort, but when your sights are still set on getting a playoff spot and you go out and lose to Ottawa at home, that's just unacceptable. I know Ottawa is a good team, but when you're at home at this time of the year, in the middle of a playoff chase, you have to win those hockey games. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. You have to win those games.
But unfortunately, the Jets get into a run-and-gun style of game and their goaltending has only been average of late. They need to lock down defensively like a team is supposed to when it's trying to get into that playoff mode.
Playoff mode is not a run-and-gun style. It's about slowing things down, making sure all of the ducks on defense are in a row. It's about being on the same page, but the Jets are not on the same page, and because of it they find themselves on the brink of elimination, down eight points with only six games left to play.
This team has good players and good fans, and it had to find a way to win. That the Jets were unable to do that this year shows me that they still have a lot of growing to do as a team to make sure those fans in Winnipeg get what they deserve for all the effort and support they give.