April 10, 2006
by Brian WheelerRyan Miller
prepares for the game of hockey as if he were still taking exams at Michigan State. The Sabres top netminder again and again dissects game film of his own performances to determine where flaws or tendencies could be exploited.
Repeated actions are the enemy of any NHL goaltender. Positioning is an allies.
So when the New York Islanders take a stab at pealing back the multiple layers of Miller's style in preparation for Game One on Thursday night (MSG, WGR 550-AM, 8 p.m.), they're going to have a difficult time making many discoveries that Buffalo's goalie hasn't already investigated.
"They're going to break me down and try and figure out what I do on a consistent basis in certain situations," said Miller. "Hopefully, with the way I've been trying to build my game up in the last month or so, I'm playing positionally sound and it's hard to work around that."
Buffalo came into the playoffs winning seven of it's last ten games. The team's success has coincided with Miller's, as the netminder has won his last five starts and a 0.929 save percentage. The 26-year-old finished the regular season in the same fashion as he did in 2005-06, shutting out Washington by turning away 26 shots.
"Sometimes it takes longer to figure out habits that you've built up, but I've tried knocking about three things out of my game in the last month," said Miller. "The last few games have felt pretty good.
"Now, it's going to be just relaxing and playing hockey. You start getting uptight and you start carrying yourself real closed and you're not within the play."
It's Miller's experience from the 2006 playoffs that has fueled his low-key approach. Last season, he led Buffalo within 20 minutes of the Stanley Cup finals, winning 11 of 18 starts with a 2.56 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.
"I can play," said Miller. "But I've got to go out there and do it again. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of thing. You just have to have confidence in your game that you're not going to change anything."
Transforming into a vocal leader in the locker room, Miller has conveyed to the team what he believes is a secret to playoff success.
"What I've been trying to echo back to the guys is don't change anything," said Miller. "There's no reason to try and find a switch or a button, or whatever the metaphor is that people try to make playoff hockey into.
"We play good hockey, and when we all play together, we play the system and we play with energy, we're nearly impossible to beat when we're not making mistakes."