J.T. Miller thriving on Rangers' fourth line against Senators
Forward has found success with simpler approach, hopes it continues in Game 6by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers forward J.T. Miller nodded his head knowingly upon hearing the evaluation of his game. He knew it was true.
Miller has been a better player for the Rangers the past two months when coach Alain Vigneault has used him at right wing on the fourth line with center Oscar Lindberg and either Tanner Glass or Jesper Fast at left wing than he has been when he's been used in a top-nine role.
He has skated better. He has commanded the puck more. He has held onto it, drawn defenders to him and brought it to the net to set up scoring chances. It's everything he hasn't done when he's played in a top-nine role, mostly with center Kevin Hayes and either Fast of Michael Grabner at left wing.
"When he keeps things high-percentage he's a real effective player," Vigneault said.
Miller needs to be that type of effective fourth-line player Tuesday, when the Rangers try to avoid being eliminated in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Ottawa Senators (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Rangers trail the best-of-7 series 3-2.
[RELATED: Complete Senators vs. Rangers series coverage | Lundqvist must deliver in Game 6]
"I don't know how I want to say this, but it's a different role," Miller said, pausing to gather his thoughts. "You know you're playing on the fourth line. It is more simple. There's less plays being made. It's more getting in, banging bodies, being responsible.
"I definitely have gotten in trouble when I play up in the lineup. I want to make a play all the time. I want the puck on my stick. I think mistakes are going to happen, but it seems that simpler is working for me."
It's not as though Miller has to be pegged as a fourth-liner now. He has the skill set to be a top-six or at least a top-nine forward on any NHL team. In fact, he played with Hayes for the majority of the season and they worked well together.
Miller was second on the Rangers with 56 points (22 goals, 34 assists) in 82 games and Hayes was fifth with 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) in 76 games. When they were on the ice together in 5-on-5 situations the Rangers averaged 2.76 goals for per 60 minutes and 1.80 goals-against per 60, according to Puckalytics.com.
Video: OTT@NYR, Gm3: Miller weaves by to feed Lindberg
But that's when they were sharing the puck and playing well away from it. The problem Miller and Hayes run into is when they each want the puck and start trying to make fancy plays to set each other up.
"[Hayes] is a disher and I think [Miller] sometimes tries to make the really heads-up, slick, backdoor passes with him," Glass said. "When he gets with us [on the fourth line], it's more straight lines, but he also knows when the puck is on his stick he's the guy making the play whereas he might defer to [Hayes] to make a lot of the plays on that line. With us, when he gets his hands on the puck coming out of the zone he's not looking to make that extra pass."
When told of Glass' evaluation, Miller said, "It's the truth."
Also, when Miller plays on the fourth line, he tells Lindberg and Glass to get away from him.
"I told them I like to make plays, I want the puck, I want them to give me the puck and get open," Miller said. "I think we can be successful doing that."
That strategy led to Lindberg's goal in Game 3 that put the Rangers up 4-0 at 18:17 of the second period.
Miller held onto the puck, made a play off the wall, used the space that opened when Glass made incidental contact with Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf, knocking him down, and set up Lindberg in the slot for a goal.
"I want to try to beat my guy out of the corner, and when I can beat a guy out of a corner I think someone is going to be open," Miller said. "We've had some good looks doing that so far."
That's nothing to be ashamed of.