Ryan Miller handles the off-ice pressures of being the No. 1 goalie in a hockey-crazed city much like he does the on-ice pressures: He doesn't back down from a fight.
And, perhaps more than ever, the outspoken netminder for the Buffalo Sabres has found himself in the middle of the media storm this season, faced with questions about his team's sub-Stanley Cup Playoff position in the Eastern Conference standings and the turmoil surrounding the firing of long-time coach Lindy Ruff (Ron Rolston, promoted from Rochester of the American Hockey League, is the interim coach).
"It's been a little bit disappointing," Miller acknowledges. "But we have a chance at making a run here."
Miller, whose contract with Buffalo expires after the 2013-14 season, took time this week to discuss a variety of topics that have played into a season full of struggles and drama. Among the topics were his team's effort to wrestle itself into position to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (Buffalo is three points out of eighth place in the East and must leapfrog four teams) and his future with the only franchise for which the two-time NHL All-Star and 2010 Vezina Trophy winner has played.
Miller, 32, even talks candidly about juggling the pressures of his sport while managing his bi-coastal marriage with actress Noureen DeWulf.
NHL.com: How have things been different with a new coach in place?
MILLER: I think so far it has been pretty positive. Lindy was a good coach for us for a lot of years, but I think we needed to change the voice a little bit. [Rolston] is trying to do more teaching and get the guys to have better habits, as far as a system goes. That is the biggest thing for our team -- cleaning up some of the habits from before. I am getting more help around me.
PADDING THE STATS
During the General Mangers meeting in Toronto last week, one of the topics of discussion was the size of goaltending equipment. The GMs said they would like to see the size of leg pads further regulated, and it's something Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller would like to see too.
"I understand the concerns," Miller told NHL.com "I try to talk to Kay Whitmore on a regular basis. We touch base every three or four months. There are definitely some concerns about the size of the shoulder padding and some issues with the pads. They want to make sure things aren’t getting too wide down there. I think we have to take a look and see if there is something to be done.
"I can foresee a more defined language about knee pads and shoulder pads, and take a look at the thigh rise. We have to clean up a few things".
Whitmore is a senior manager in the NHL's hockey operations department whose main focus is monitoring goaltender equipment. Specifically, the managers would like to see a reduction in the height of the goalie pad above the knee, as well as making knee pads more conforming and less bulky. There is a belief that these changes will open room between the legs and result in more opportunities for offense.
"It is a lot in how you wear it," Miller said. "We aren’t trying to pick on anybody but there are situations where guys have invented things. There are rules and a spirit of the game. It is kind of like tax law: You make a tax law and then people hire someone really good so they can pay less taxes. No goalie wants smaller equipment. I don’t blame guys for pushing it. But it is up to the NHL and NHLPA to make sure everything is being done in the right way."
-- Ken Baker
NHL.com: So would you say the team is playing a more disciplined game?
MILLER: Yes, the emphasis is on responsibilities. There are going to be mistakes. We are just trying to minimize them. If guys are getting back harder and picking up sticks or hurrying up shots, it allows me to play more comfortable.
NHL.com: What is Rolston like as a coach for goalies?
MILLER: He pretty much leaves you alone. So far, he has just kept the normal rotation: I am going to play the games until they tell me otherwise. So far, I feel like they've been happy with my game. I think I have handled the season pretty well. I think I could be better in some regards, but my energy level and competitive level has been good most of the nights.
NHL.com: Watching you through the years, I notice that, as much as any other skill, timing is a key part of your style. Is that fair to say?
MILLER: Sure. It is a flow thing. You try to get inside plays instead of waiting for the play to happen. You try to dictate. That is an advantage I have in my game. If I can, I want to make guys change their mind or make guys miss the play they want to create. That comes with trying to be in the play and flow a little bit.
NHL.com: On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate your own performance so far this season?
MILLER: I would say right now a 6 or 7. I haven't had many long stretches of strong performances. It has been a little bit disappointing. There have been moments when it has been pretty good, but followed by a few drop-offs. But, you know, the team reflects the goalie and the goalie reflects the team.
NHL.com: You have a reputation for being a perfectionist. Are you?
MILLER: Yeah. But I am not as bad as I used to be. You have to allow for some things to happen over the course of a season and it's not always going to be perfect. You are going to have to battle through some bad stuff. Like that [March 21] game against Toronto. Things weren't going great, but we figured it out and got a win in the shootout. Sometimes, those are the games you have to play and battle through. We are trying to do that as a team this season. We have to just get our points and into a playoff position.
NHL.com: Do you see yourself playing in Buffalo after your contract runs out next season?
MILLER: That is up to Buffalo. That is something they probably want to start talking about in the next few months. A lot of that is going to be dictated by the kind of plan we have here. Obviously, last year was a tough year. This year, we still have a lot of time to write our own story. We will see how things play out and see what the plan is. It seems like the plan is shifting a bit with the departure of some guys and how things have shaped up this year. We have to adjust and see what the plan is.
NHL.com: Since you spend summers in Los Angeles and your wife is there, do you ever fantasize about moving to a West Coast team?
MILLER: No. I will just try to take it as it comes. I am with a team that has been really good to me, and I want to see how things play out. It has been brought up by a lot of people, but it is a privilege to have the opportunity to play goalie in the NHL. It is not about, ‘Oh, I want to play here or play there.' Every team has a plan in net and you can't just hop around and assume you will have some kind of ideal situation. Right now, I am focusing on playing for my team in Buffalo and seeing what I can do here.
NHL.com: But being 3,000 miles apart from your wife can't be easy during season.
Miller: It hasn't been easy on our relationship. Noureen has been pretty busy with her career and hockey is obviously very consuming. But a lot of couples who are being successful in their careers and doing the thing they love to do have to go long stretches being apart. We just have to accept that at this point in our careers. It is tough to be away from the wife, but we both have the opportunity to do the thing we love and we just accept that for what it is in the moment.
NHL.com: You hold an annual fashion show fundraiser each season for your Steadfast Foundation for kids but had to cancel this year due to the lockout.
MILLER: Yeah, I was very disappointed. It is something I look forward to every year. There was just no time in the schedule, but we still have kept our programs in place and I will soon be making time to visit more kids in the hospital. No matter what happens moving forward with my career, the charity will continue.