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Miller is healthy, ready for season

by Kevin Woodley / Vancouver Canucks
VANCOUVER -- It took Ryan Miller five months to completely recover from the knee injury that cost him most of the final two months of the 2014-15 season, but that doesn't mean the Vancouver Canucks should worry about the health of their 35-year-old goaltender.

Watching Miller moving around his crease during a training session with former NHL goalie Alex Auld on Tuesday, there were no signs of the delays that plagued his comeback late last season.

"There was a certain amount of inflammation and it would give feedback it was sore and a little slow, and then all of a sudden, about mid-July, it was just kind of like, 'OK, we're done with that and we're good,'" Miller told NHL.com.

As for injury concerns as he ages, Miller is as meticulous about his body as he is his equipment and can point to a track record of durability in his 12-season NHL career. The notable exceptions involve plays when he was hit: once by a shot that broke his thumb and twice by hard-charging skaters.

His most recent injury occurred in a Feb. 22 game against the New York Islanders, when teammate Jannik Hansen slid hard into Miller's right knee, spraining his MCL and knocking him out nearly two months. He returned for the regular-season finale April 11 and took over for Eddie Lack during Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series against the Calgary Flames.

Miller started and made 20 saves in a 2-1 victory in Game 5, but the Canucks' season ended when he allowed five goals on 31 shots in a 7-4 loss in Game 6.

The pain in Miller's knee lasted another two-and-a-half months.

"Anytime you have that kind of injury they quote it as 4-6 weeks to get clear to play, but functionally you are not going to be the same for about 4-6 months," he said.

Miller, who was back on the ice skating twice a week by the end of May near his summer home in Los Angeles, said he used the knee injury to focus on improving his hip stability.

"I have worked pretty hard my whole career on injury prevention," he said. "I don't think people know about it because we don't really talk about it, but it's something that early in my career I identified because there were some things going on in college that I wasn't sustaining the right body alignment I wanted. So I learned early on that it was really important."

It may be really important to the Canucks that Miller stays healthy this season.

Lack led Vancouver back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after Miller was injured, and his .921 save percentage was better than Miller's .911, leading some to wonder about another Canucks crease controversy.

That ended when Lack was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2015 NHL Draft, but it left Vancouver with Jacob Markstrom, who is coming off an impressive season in the American Hockey League but has struggled in 50 career NHL games, and Miller, who is coming off an injury and his worst full-season NHL save percentage.

Miller won't use it as an excuse, but last season included a lot of changes for him. It was his first full season in the Western Conference, playing behind a team and defense adjusting to a new coach and system, all while making tactical changes under a new goaltending coach.

"There was a lot of ebb and flow early on; me and the team had stretches we were flowing really well and stretches it was up and down," Miller said. "We started to stabilize towards the end, we knew what we wanted to do and I was starting to get a feel for, 'OK, this is how I want to play,' and I got interrupted by the injury. Now I am just trying to pick up again on that same course."

There were also questions about how Miller's more flowing style would mesh with the more technical, conservative positional preferences of goaltending coach Roland Melanson. After a season of learning from and about each other, Miller thinks all transitions will be easier this year.

"I think I may be in a better place to take in more from [Melanson] now," he said. "I've learned how to communicate with him and I've learned a lot about my game and what works and what doesn't. I said last year I had stretches where I was making a fair amount of mistakes trying to make reads, but that's where if you spend your career making reads on certain situations at a certain depth and when you start to change that, everything changes. So it's like you have to be open to changes, but you also have to hold true to what makes you good. It's a balancing point."

Wanting to find that balance does not, however, make Miller resistant to change. That wouldn't match him seeking out Auld, who also worked with Lack over the past two offseasons.

"I have always been the kind of person where I like to watch the game, learn the game, and I feel like I am constantly trying to adapt," Miller said. "I learned a lot working with Alex, just tracking the puck and how a lot of it is posture. So you are constantly learning."

Auld, who played with styles ranging from Carey Price to Tim Thomas, and for coaches ranging in style from Francois Allaire to Bob Essensa, was impressed working with Miller.

"The way he reads the game and thinks the position is next level," Auld said. "That allows him to do things other goalies can't and sometimes it doesn't look the same as what I've come to expect from today's modern goaltender, but there's a reason for it, and it's well thought out."

For Miller, skating with Auld four of the past five days made a lot more sense than returning to the informal skates with Canucks teammates he took part in last summer.

"You get 20-30 minutes of shots, it's all rapid fire, and then guys just want to play a little shinny and you get backdoored about six times, and then it's time to drop off your gear and get a workout in. And it's like what did you really accomplish?" he said. "Last year, I was excited to meet the guys and be around. This year, I will be around them a lot, so I needed to get my work in."

After missing so much time late last season, that work started earlier than usual this offseason.

Miller and the Canucks are hoping the payoff also comes sooner this season.

Author: Kevin Woodley | NHL.com Correspondent

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