Ryan Miller, his turnaround and what he means to the Sabres

It has been a pretty interesting season for Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres as a whole. Both Miller and the team came out of the gates red-hot. The Sabres rolled to the top of the conference thanks, in part, to Miller’s 2.13 GAA and .930 SV% in the month of October. Of course, November 12 came around and the season imploded.

Miller had a couple rough nights prior to his injury against Boston, that game’s numbers just compounded on a difficult stretch for the former Vezina winner. Miller returned in the thick of a franchise-worst losing streak and still didn’t look himself. He has since got the train back on the tracks and has been a major part – perhaps the trailblazer – for Buffalo’s run from the basement into the thick of the playoff race.

His recent success has not only put the Sabres back in the playoff picture, it has removed him from some dog houses and made many realize the potential he and the Sabres contain. There are a bunch of different figures floating around regarding Miller’s impressive stretch. I took notice of the improvement in his game in the early part of January, I have been tracking his numbers since then. Miller is 20-8-5 with a 2.13 GAA and a .927 SV%. His numbers are even more impressive when looking at the All-Star break. Beginning with his shootout win against New Jersey on January 24, Miller is 18-5-5 with a 1.82 GAA and .938 SV% (stats as of 3/26).

However, it is not necessarily Miller’s number that I’m interested in digging into. It is his perception with the fans and media. His recent Q&A with Pierre LeBrun on ESPN.com is one of those eye-opening interviews. It not only gives the insight into Miller’s particularly analytical mind, but it gives some excellent viewpoints on a number of topics that have surrounded the Sabres this season.

For some reason a great many fans think Ryan Miller is a jerk or an arrogant ass. I don’t think they could be further off in their opinion. I have spoken with Miller on multiple occasions, both professional and personal, and have always come away with a better opinion of him than I had going in. I think he can come off as abrasive just because he is a strongly opinionated individual who is intelligent. Not many hockey players are very intelligent, myself included. Because of that, I think Miller’s opinions and quotes are often misconstrued.

The demands on a goalie are mostly mental, it means that for a goalie, the biggest enemy is himself. Not a puck, not an opponent, not a quirk of size or style. Him. The stress and anxiety he feels when he plays, the fear of failing, the fear of being embarrassed, the fear of being physically hurt, all the symptoms of his position, in constant ebb and flow, but never disappearing. The successful goalie understands these neuroses, accepts them, and puts them under control. The unsuccessful goalie is distracted by them, his mind in knots, his body quickly following. ~ Ken Dryden

These most recent thoughts are spot on in just about every topic and offer honest, insightful opinions. Don’t take his “we didn’t earn or deserve the label at all” as an insult to his coaches and teammates. Understand that he is in the locker room and knows the mindset of the players and coaches alike, obviously he felt their lofty expectations were somehow tied to their struggles. Based on coverage of the team in every aspect, I would say he is spot on.

This is one of those quotes that everyone would interpret differently. Those who really dislike Miller may see it as a jerk trying to deflect blame, pessimists may just see it as an excuse for a sub-par season and those close to the situation may understand his words more. As someone who didn’t buy the first-or-bust talk, I see exactly where he is coming from. Miller also went on to say that the team needed to find their identity before gaining any sort of label. As someone who has often questioned the mental toughness of the roster, I’d say he couldn’t be more correct.

Still, you have a great many people who are ready to burn Miller the minute they have the chance. A lot of this likely comes from his inability to be Dominik Hasek. Just about every Sabres fan has been spoiled by Hasek in one way or the other and the organization isn’t likely to see another goaltender of Hasek’s pedigree again. That is unfortunate for Miller because just like Kevin Sylvester will be compared to Rick Jeanneret, Miller will be compared to Hasek.

Just because Miller set the all-time wins record doesn’t matter. He may end up with nearly every goaltending record the Sabres have. That doesn’t mean he is better than Hasek. It means he was an extremely successful goaltender who played long enough to surpass those records. He won’t touch the shutout record, but that is probably for the best.

*part two of this post will run tomorrow*

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