Sabres Stat Pack: Examining Ryan Miller’s recent play

Ryan Miller hasn’t been the goaltender that put the US Olympic team on his back and was one shot from a gold medal in 2010. He isn’t the Vezina winner, nor the goaltender who stole a pair of win for the Sabres in last year’s playoffs.

As is the case with most Buffalo sports fans, Miller has fallen into a bad light with many because of his substandard play this season. However, he is enjoying a noticeable turnaround as of late. While his improved play may not be enough to vault the Sabres into the playoffs, many need to realize that he isn’t playing like the sieve he is being made out to be.

The first thing every Sabres fan needs to realize is that Ryan Miller is not Dominik Hasek. It is doubtful that Buffalo will have another goaltender of that caliber, so get over it. Stop thinking Miller is going to roll up 15 shutouts and keep his goals against below 1.90 every year. It is unrealistic and, frankly, an unfair standard to hold any player to.

Miller’s career numbers have hovered right around 2.50 goals against with a save percentage right around .910 to .920. His elevated play in 2009-10 produced significantly better numbers (2.22 GAA and .929 SV%) which obviously raised expectations.

Last year and this year have brought more scrutiny to his game, even though it hasn’t been much different than it had been in years past. Goaltending is often more objective that just looking at the numbers. Say what you will about career statistics, but an eye test will tell you that Miller is the guy you want on a nightly basis compared to Marty Biron, for example.

Without any tangible proof, I’ll stay away from calling Miller a big-game goalie. He has stepped up and performed for his team when they have needed him (see the wins in last year’s playoffs). Add to that his success in the shootout over the course of his career. Many argue that Miller isn’t worth the money they’re paying him. I’d say those people are dead wrong. They also say the money would be better spent elsewhere, that is a valid argument that would be worth exploring. But don’t try and say Miller is the reason the Sabres are floating around the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

The hot start to Miller’s season cooled after a tough outing against Philadelphia and his subsequent concussion against Boston. Those two games combined with his horrific performance against Pittsburgh dragged his numbers to the bottom of the league’s goaltenders. However, as he has gotten further from the pair of concussions he suffered in less than a year, his play has improved.

Miller’s numbers since January 1 have been solid. He has appeared in 18 games, getting the start in 17. His record is 9-7-2 in that span with a 2.40 GAA and .915 SV%. The win-loss record is hampered by the inability of the Sabres to score goals. Five of those losses came during Buffalo’s dismal road losing streak when scoring once per game was typical.

Miller truly turned his game around at the All-Star break. Beginning with his victory against New Jersey, Miller has 11 starts and 12 appearances since that game immediately prior to the break. In those games Miller is 7-2-2 with a 1.84 GAA and a .934 SV%*. That looks like all-world goaltending to me. He is even passing the eye test. While he is still prone to “Miller shutouts” he is making big saves in big moments.  This is the type of play everyone has been waiting to see from the face of the franchise.

What truly interested me was the fact that Miller’s numbers have been so strong independent of the fact that he took a couple bruises against Philadelphia last week. He allowed four goals in just over 30 minutes of play. That roughly translates to a goals against average of eight for that game. If you take the Philly relief effort out of the equation, Miller has a 1.49 GAA and a.940 SV% since the break. His 2012 numbers improve to 2.25 and .920.

He is still a ways off from righting the ship in terms of his season-long numbers. He would need to stretch this level of play for another half-dozen games at the very least. But considering he was staring at a sub-.900 save percentage and a goals against well above 3.00, Miller has been steadily improving over the past couple months.

Considering this improvement, there is little disgruntled fans can point to regarding his play. Miller has help up his end of the bargain and the team has picked up 20 points since the New Year (16 since 1/24) thanks to his play. This is the type of play you want to see from Miller, getting the proper goal support will be the next important step.

*I’m aware these numbers aren’t identical to those published in TBN, I’m not sure why there is a discrepancy. Probably because I’m not Elias.

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