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Healthy Miller could help stabilize depleted Ducks

Anaheim gets goalie back from lower-body injury, continues six-game road trip thin at forward

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- When it comes to the Anaheim Ducks, the question isn't where you do start, rather, where does it end?

"When you're in this business, you expect surprises," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "You just don't expect so many of them in a short period of time."

If it wasn't bad enough that the Ducks were without injured forwards Ryan Getzlaf (face), Ryan Kesler (hip), Patrick Eaves (Guillain-Barre syndrome) and Ondrej Kase (upper body), forward Rickard Rakell missed Anaheim's 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday with an upper-body injury and won't travel with the Ducks when they continue a six-game road trip at the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCH, FS-W).

Rakell leads the Ducks in goals (eight) and points (18) this season, and led them with 33 goals last season.

The Ducks did get goaltender Ryan Miller back in the lineup -- one Carlyle called "bare bones" -- after he missed six games with a lower-body injury, and he was the primary reason they earned a point at Staples Center by making 33 saves. He came within 1:32 of a shutout, but Dustin Brown's goal at 18:28 of the third tied the game.

Video: ANA@LAK: Miller stonewalls Doughty in overtime

Miller signed a two-year contract reportedly worth $4 million with the Ducks as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 with the intention of letting him push starter John Gibson for playing time. He spent the past three seasons playing for the Vancouver Canucks, but wanted to relocate to Southern California, partly for family reasons. His wife, Noureen DeWulf, is an actress and they have a young son, Bodhi. The Ducks saw Miller, 37, as a valuable insurance policy, a player that won the Vezina Trophy as the League's top goaltender with the Buffalo Sabres in 2009-10.

But Miller's season, like so many others in Anaheim, has been undermined by injuries. In the preseason, he injured his wrist, which kept him out of the Ducks' first 10 regular-season games. He made his season debut with a 37-save victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 29, but was injured in his fourth appearance of the season, a 4-1 win against the Canucks on Nov. 9, setting him back once again.

The net effect meant that Miller saw 192:08 of playing time before Saturday. In that limited action, he was 2-0-2 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.

With 360 wins, 19th on the NHL's all-time list, Miller has been around long enough to know goaltending can sometimes be hockey's great equalizer. On Saturday, the Ducks needed something to compensate for their depleted lineup.

Video: ANA@LAK: Miller robs Pearson late in the 2nd

Not many goaltenders can miss as much time as Miller has this season and go in against the Kings and produce 58-plus minutes of shutout hockey. But there is a calmness to his game that is transmitted to the position players playing in front of him. Nothing seems to rattle him, even the big-bodied Kings can make life difficult for goaltenders around the crease, providing screens, a little bump here, a little bump there.

Even at his age, Miller moves post-to-post as well as any of the younger men playing the position.

"I thought he was very good," Carlyle said. "He was steady. I thought he gave us a chance. He's a pro, nothing really rattles him. He has his quirks. He makes sure his equipment is just so, the stick has to be taped this way, all those things.

"But when he goes in the net, he's in there to stop the puck and he takes it seriously."

Miller is a scholar when it comes to the art of goaltending. You have to be, he says, to stay relevant in a game that changes every season.

Video: ANA@LAK: Gaborik shuts down Miller's late attempt

"You can't make the same reads and expect to survive," Miller told earlier this season.

"You have to adapt. What I've tried to do is bring a more modern approach to some of my reads. You have to go a little bit with your gut at times and a little bit old school.

"As we change, the shooters change and then we have to change. It's a fun little dance."

Miller isn't with the Ducks to reflect on past glories, but to help them overcome their early-season challenges. Against the Kings, the Ducks dressed 11 forwards. Of those 11, three (Kevin Roy, Mike Liambas and Kalle Kossila) combined for one NHL game prior to this season. Two others (Logan Shaw and Chris Wagner) are each in their first full NHL season.

After the Ducks begin their trip in Chicago, it doesn't get any easier with games at the St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights. With their defense finally intact, they will be trying to squeeze out a lot of low-scoring wins until their offense returns to health. Gibson and a now-healthy Miller could be integral in helping the Ducks stay competitive until reinforcements arrive.

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