To help celebrate NBC Rivalry Night, NHL.com will look at a rivalry within the rivalry of the featured game on Wednesday nights.
Welcome to Rivalry Night Faceoff, a new weekly feature that looks at one of the biggest head-to-head matchups in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game. To get things started, we examine the looming showdown between Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, both of whom are in the mix to be one of the three goalies selected to represent the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia in February.
Both goalies have legitimate arguments regarding their Olympic worth to put forth to Team USA general manager David Poile and Team USA coach Dan Bylsma. A four-month closing argument begins for each goalie with the game Wednesday.
Let's look at their cases so far:
At 29, Howard is among the younger generation looking to inject new blood into the Olympic team set-up. He certainly has the credentials to make that case.
Entering his fifth season as the No. 1 goalie for one of the League's most successful franchises, Howard is just starting to enter his prime, which has to be a scary proposition for opposing teams.
Since arriving in the NHL after a lengthy apprenticeship with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League, Howard has done nothing but win. In his first two seasons as the full-time starter he posted back-to-back 37-win seasons. In the past two seasons he has combined to win 56 of the 99 games he played. He had a .923 save percentage last season, just one-hundredth of a point off his career-best mark set in 2009-10.
The wins, however, have not come as easily in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Howard has made the postseason in each of the past four seasons, but never has made it past the second round and holds a 20-22 record in the playoffs.
Howard also is very familiar to the decision-makers that will select the team that represents the United States in Sochi. Howard has been a part of USA Hockey since his teens, playing for the National Team Developmental Program in 2001-02 prior to going to the University of Maine. Howard has represented the United States internationally at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, the IIHF World Junior Championship and, most recently, the 2012 IIHF World Championship.
Miller, at 33, is four years older than Howard but has a much stronger foothold in the NHL. Miller's 500 regular-season NHL games are 266 more than Howard has on his resume.
The gap is much closer when it comes to Stanley Cup experience, however. Despite being in the League far longer, Miller has skated in five more playoff games than Howard. But after making back-to-back runs to the Eastern Conference Final in 2005-06 and 2006-07, Miller has appeared in the postseason on two other occasions, losing in the first round each time.
Miller was not great last season as the Sabres missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season. He went 17-17-5 with an inflated 2.81 goals-against average and a pedestrian .915 save percentage. In each of the past three seasons his goals-against average has been above 2.50 and his save percentage has been below .920.
However, there is no forgetting what Miller did the last time he wore the Team USA crest on his jersey. Simply, he turned in one of the most dominating goaltending performances that tournament ever has seen. He won his first five games while allowing only six goals to propel the United States into the gold-medal game against the host Canadians. There, he again was brilliant as the game extended into overtime before allowing a goal to Sidney Crosby, the game's best player. As a result, Miller and the rest of the Americans earned silver medals instead of gold and much of Miller's big-game heroics have been relegated to an afterthought.
Now, though, Miller is hungry for a shot at redemption. In the run-up to the season, including USA Hockey's Olympic Orientation Camp, Miller has talked freely about the career-defining goal he allowed to Crosby, as well as the burning desire to get back to that stage in Sochi for a shot at redemption. To do so, he knows he must get off to a fast start this season with the Sabres.
USA Hockey invited six goaltenders to its Olympic camp in August. Miller and Howard were on that list, joined by John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks, Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils, Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. So there is a good chance that Miler and Howard could make the team. But if tasked with choosing just one of Howard or Miller to make the team, the nod has to go to Miller at this moment. There simply is no way to forget what he did for USA Hockey four years ago and rewarding those contributions likely breaks any tie that still exits when the roster is named Jan. 1, 2014.
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