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Northeast: Sabres believe in Miller and resurgence

by James Murphy

Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres have lost six
of their last eight games, and at 5-7-1 currently occupy last place in the Northeast Division.

Ryan Miller is the first to acknowledge the slow start for both the Buffalo Sabres and himself. But the Sabres goaltender, who has won 70 games over the last two seasons, is confident Buffalo will not remain in the Northeast Division cellar. In fact Miller, who enters tonight’s divisional game against the Bruins with a 4-6-1 record, 2.99 goals-against average and an uncharacteristically low .894 save percentage, believes the Sabres are very close to busting out of their slump.

“We obviously haven’t had the start we wanted, but I’ve seen some positive signs lately and we’re not panicking about this, so that’s a good sign,” Miller said. “I know I can be better and I know this team is better, but for various reasons we haven’t gotten there yet.”

If Buffalo is to “get there,” the Sabres will need Miller to be the goalie who carried them to the conference finals in each of the last two seasons. The Sabres’ coaching staff believes Miller will be the man to help turn things around.

“We’ve seen what he can do over the last two seasons and that’s just the kind of competitor that Ryan is,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We know he will be there for us night in and night out.”

According to Buffalo goaltending coach Jim Corsi, Miller’s preparations and in-game adjustments are second to none. Based on that, he would be very surprised if Miller’s stats remain this way throughout the season.

“Ryan is an excellent goaltender and probably one of, if not the best I’ve ever worked with,” Corsi said. “Not only is this kid physically gifted, but he is also mentally agile. He has the uncanny ability to park the bad stuff to the side and build off what he’s learned not only in his preparation for each game, but in-game as well.”

Corsi believes that Miller’s passion and desire to improve has helped him become one of the NHL’s elite.

“From the time I started working with him, you could tell that this was a kid who strives to succeed and is always looking to be better,” Corsi said. “He is an excellent self-evaluator and is able to adapt in-game and from game-to-game extremely well. He can process info and use it right away.”

One of Miller’s favorite ways to evaluate his game is through video. According to Corsi, Miller watches endless hours of video between games, and even between periods.

“Ryan really utilizes video technology, analyzing every shot and his movement in and around the net,” Corsi said. “He does this before and after every game and even during an intermission.”

Ruff also alluded to Miller’s video evaluation.

“One thing we always try to do – not just with goalies but with all our players – is to get them to use video and pin-point areas that need improvement,” Ruff said. “Ryan does a good job of not only reviewing himself through video, but also preparing himself for the defensive schemes we may throw out there in front of him.”

According to Miller, using video has been common to him since juniors, and especially during his college days.

“We would always use the video in juniors and I guess every level I’ve been at, but I really started using it at Michigan State,” Miller said. “We even were able to make our own personal video profiles back then and it’s something I got accustomed to as I grew older.”

Chances are Miller may be entrenched in another video file as you read this and that, along with his other preparation skills, is why many in the Sabres organization believe Miller is just the right person to get Buffalo past this tough start.

“If there’s a guy to do it, it’s Ryan,” Corsi said. “He will figure out what’s wrong and correct it because that’s what he’s always done.”

Who’s hot -- The Canadiens continued their strong start, going 2-1 over the past week. Chris Higgins had two goals, Bryan Smolinski had three points (one goal, two assists), and Andrei Markov chipped in with four assists in Montreal’s last three games. Goaltender Cristobal Huet went 2-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average. Huet was sensational in a 2-0 shutout over Buffalo, making 29 saves.

Senators' goaltender Martin Gerber has been
exceptional filling in for starter Ray Emery.

One of the reasons for Ottawa’s early success has been the stellar play of Martin Gerber, who continued to impress this past week, helping the Senators sweep a home-and-home weekend series with Boston. Gerber made 21 saves and stopped all Bruins shooters in a 2-1 shootout win Sunday, and made 17 saves in a 3-2 win Saturday. The Senators’ offense also has been clicking. Ottawa got contributions from usual suspects – Daniel Alfredsson, who had a four-point game in a 6-4 Senators win over Atlanta Thursday, and Dany Heatley, who had four points (one goal, three assists), in three games. Mike Fisher had a huge game in the 3-2 win over Boston Saturday, with two goals and the game-winner.

The Bruins got some much-needed offensive punch from forward Chuck Kobasew who scored all of his team’s goals in the home-and-home with Ottawa. Kobasew scored twice Saturday and had the lone Bruins goal Sunday. Marco Sturm also has been contributing and had a two-point game (one goal, one assist), scoring the game-winner in a 4-3 victory over Buffalo last Thursday.

Shootout summary -- There was just one shootout in the Northeast Division this past week, and it was the aforementioned Senators’ 2-1 win over the Bruins. Alfredsson and Antoine Vermette scored for the Senators in the shootout.

Black and Blue -- The Bruins remain without Patrice Bergeron and Manny Fernandez and now defenseman Andrew Ference has joined the injured list with an “upper core” injury. Ference and Fernandez (knee) are day-to-day and Bergeron is out indefinitely with a concussion, broken nose and strained neck. Finnish goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask was called up from Providence Monday to replace Jordan Sigalet and serve as Tim Thomas’ backup.

As if the Sabres’ bad start wasn’t difficult enough, newly signed defenseman Nolan Pratt strained his groin in his Sabres debut against Florida Friday and yesterday news out of Buffalo was that forwards Adam Mair and Tim Connolly could be lost for a significant amount of time. Mair sprained his ankle and Connolly strained his abdomen in the loss to Montreal Monday. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek remains day-to-day with a shoulder injury and fellow defensemen Dmitri Kalinin (knee) and Teppo Numminen (heart surgery) remain out of the Buffalo lineup on injured reserve.

Montreal defenseman Francis Bouillon is hoping to return from a shoulder injury when his team travels to Boston Thursday for a divisional battle with the rival Bruins. Meanwhile, forward Garth Murray remains out with an ankle injury.

Senators forward Jason Spezza, who recently signed a seven-year contract extension, missed Tuesday night’s game against Toronto with a groin pull. Spezza is day-to-day.

Toronto got an offensive boost in Ottawa as forwards Kyle Wellwood and Mark Bell returned. Wellwood was on injured reserve with a sports hernia while Bell is returning from a suspension. The Leafs still are without defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and forward Darcy Tucker, both of whom are out indefinitely with knee injuries.

The Week Ahead -- The Bruins are in Buffalo Wednesday to face the Sabres for the second time in a week.

Two Northeast teams will be in action Thursday, as the Bruins host the Canadiens and the Senators welcome Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals.

On Friday, the Leafs invade Buffalo to renew that rivalry.

On Saturday, all five Northeast teams are in action, with two divisional match-ups. The Senators host the Canadiens and the Bruins host the Sabres. The Maple Leafs and Rangers will play in the Hall of Fame Game at the Air Canada Centre.

Tuesday, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens renew their rivalry at the Air Canada Centre in their second meeting of the season. The Leafs won the first of eight between the Original 6 clubs, 3-2, last Saturday.


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