With Ryan Miller
having started 31 consecutive games for the Sabres, questions arose following Monday’s practice as to how the Buffalo crease will be manned going forward as the schedule begins to intensify. The Sabres will play seven times over the next 12 days, beginning with back-to-back games Tuesday (at Montreal) and Wednesday (vs. Toronto).
“We’re going to stick to the schedule that we laid out,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said when asked how and when he would spell Miller. “I said last week, I met with Ryan and we laid out a schedule that goes all the way into March, so we’re just going to stick to it. I’m not announcing what my plans are for the next two games, but I’ll announce that I do have a schedule.”
Miller’s current consecutive starts streak is three shy of matching his career-high, which was established during the 2007-08 season. Following Sunday’s 7-6 overtime loss to the Islanders, Miller is now 18-9-3 (.629 points pct.) during the run with a 2.85 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.
Miller’s heavy workload ranks him sixth among NHL goaltenders with 45 games played this season despite missing time back in November due to injury. There will be very few off days over the next four weeks as the Sabres have more than one day between games just once from now until March 15.
“We have talked about working in some breaks because (the schedule) is busy, but for me it’s about seeking out some rest and finding time to get the goalie practice in when I can get it and get some rest in when I can get it,” Miller said of the conversation he had with Ruff.
While he allowed a season-high seven goals on Sunday, Miller noted the importance of being able to move past the outing.
I’m just going to shake it off and be a veteran player. It’s a frustrating loss last night but looking back on the stretch of games, we’ve done what we had to do as a team to get ourselves into a positive situation and we can’t let last night turn into a negative. - Sabres Goalie Ryan Miller
“You’re going to have bad games, you’re going to have games that just don’t go your way, and you’re going to have games where you can’t do anything right but somehow you still win,” Miller said. “I’m just going to shake it off and be a veteran player. It’s a frustrating loss last night but looking back on the stretch of games, we’ve done what we had to do as a team to get ourselves into a positive situation and we can’t let last night turn into a negative.”
Ruff agreed with his Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, saying it’s important to move on and focus on the next game.
“He had a tough night last night, just throw that one aside and move on. We’ll stick to the schedule. Our team has been on a good run. We don’t like losing that extra point, but what’s even more important right now is focusing in on the game tomorrow night. We want to get two points out of that game,” he said.
was named the NHL’s Second Star for the week ending Feb. 13 after notching a pair of hat tricks to increase his league-leading total to four three-goal games on the season.
Stafford’s fourth hat trick of the season, which came Sunday against the Islanders, puts his name alongside some of the all-time Sabre greats in terms of players with four or more hat tricks in a single season. Stafford has become just the sixth different Sabre to accomplish the feat, joining Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault, Pat LaFontaine, Alexander Mogilny and current Sabre Thomas Vanek
Martin had four hat tricks in the 1973-74 season and a franchise record seven hat tricks during the 1975-76 campaign. That mark was tied by Mogilny during the 1992-93 season when Mogilny tallied seven hat tricks on his way to shattering the Sabres’ single-season record with 76 goals.
Perreault, who holds many of the franchise’s all-time records including most career games, goals, assists and points, netted four hat tricks in 1977-78. LaFontaine did the same in 1991-92. After Mogilny’s record-setting season the following year, no one accomplished the feat in a Buffalo uniform until Vanek did so in a two-month span during the 2007-08 campaign.
Since 2005-06, Stafford is one of only four players in the NHL to notch at least four hat tricks in one season, joining Jonathan Cheechoo (2005-06), Vanek (2007-08) and Eric Staal (2008-09). In addition, Stafford is the first NHL player to score four hat tricks in a span of 60 days since Vanek did it in 2007-08 and also became the first NHL player since Pavel Bure in 2001 to notch four hat tricks in 24 team games.
Steve Montador (concussion symptoms) practiced with the team again on Monday and was put through extra battle drills following the session. Ruff said he was a possibility to play in Tuesday’s game at Montreal, but added that with seven healthy defensemen on the roster in addition to Montador, he would have to be sure that Montador would be ready to make a difference before putting him back into the lineup.