Between the Pipes: Miller, Sabres outlast Isles for first victory

This probably doesn’t seem too familiar to some out there in Sabres nation. Winning has been something relatively absent from the psyche of Sabres fans for a while and was amplified by the team’s o’fer start to the year.

However an offensive – can I say explosion? – explosion from the Sabres pulled their contest with the Islanders to overtime where Ryan Miller eventually shut the door on two of the three New York shooters on the way to his first victory of the year. Thomas Vanek and Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres in the skills competition.

The shootout victory came after yet another shooting gallery effort from the Sabres skaters as they were outshot by the Isles 44-34 on the night and giving Miller another 40-save effort. Miller, who has seen over 40 biscuits in three of his five games, ranks first in shots against and saves in the entire league. As unbelievable as that may be, he has indeed seen the most shots in this young season.

Luckily for the Sabres he has been up to the challenge. I opined earlier this year that if there’s ever a time to want Ryan Miller on a roster it is during an Olympic year. He was a man possessed after his snub in 2006 and saw his name etched on the Vezina after standing on his head in 2009-10. I’m not ready to guarantee an Olympic roster spot or a Vezina season, but I’m fully confident that he will be maintaining this top form for most of the season.

Where there is going to be a disconnect is in the win and loss column. Only 1-4-0, Miller’s record is far from sterling despite his sublime stat line and plenty of shortsighted fans will point to negative decisions as evidence to how overrated, average, overpaid, soft, etc. Miller is. Despite the exact opposite to be true.

Hopefully last night helps to open the eyes of some of the bigger critics out there. Obviously the Sabres aren’t going to be contending for the President’s Trophy this season. They’re not built to be very successful and the record and stat line will reflect that. The two guys who may come up as goats will be Miller and Jhonas Enroth, which will probably be disappointing to many fans out there.

Realize this team is built for the future and not the present, that a handful of individuals will be stuck weathering the storm and hope for a few more thrilling win like what was witnessed last night.

Ryan Miller

What he did well

Miller again controlled his area well and helped carry his team to victory. While stealing a win may be defined as some with only shutout victories, this game certainly deserves that distinction. On only a few occasions did Miller appear to be pushing too hard to be a difference maker, as his overall game looked polished.

Where he struggled

I personally didn’t think much of the Nielsen goal. Maybe he expected Pysyk to play the situation differently, but despite the quality of the shot placement, it wasn’t a great goal to allow. Otherwise I thought it was a phenomenal effort from Miller.

Save of the game

Tough to pinpoint one specific stop from 41 (43 counting the shootout) on the night. However, I’ll go with his pair of stops to preserve the victory for the Sabres in the shootout. He played both Nielsen and John Tavares perfectly.

Evgeni Nabokov

What he did well

Nabokov was tested on more than one occasion by the Sabres and he did respond in kind. He had a few solid stops but certainly wasn’t on top of his game last night.

Where he struggled

Rebound control was definitely his biggest bugaboo last night. Nabokov kicked out a number of juicy rebounds and didn’t seem like he was handling shots particularly well. Given the fluke nature of the first goal and the screen with apparent deflection on the third, I don’t find too much fault in any one play, but he just didn’t have it all last night.

Save of the game

I actually can’t think of any saves that completely jump out at me from Nabokov. He turned aside 31 but there’s nothing that really wowed me last night.

Notes:

  • After selective hibernation over the first six games, the Ennis, Foligno, Stafford line woke up in a big way last night. While he wasn’t rewarded with a goal, Stafford continued to play inspired hockey. He was highly visible yesterday, made some solid hustle plays against the Wild and has shown some steady contributions the last few games. I get that fans hate him, but he’s been far from the Sabres’ worst player this year.
  • John Scott’s ice time is usually low enough that you don’t need to worry about him being a spectator on two goals in the same game, except when that exact scenario unfolds. Short of asking to see Mikhail Grigorenko on the fourth line, why is Scott dressing over Grigorenko at this point?
  • Obviously yesterday’s effort made the Ennis, Stafford, Foligno trio look worth keeping together. But has there been any thought given to a lineup like this: 26-19-9/63-25-82/28-22-21/12-8-65
  • The Ehrhoff/Pysyk pairing is crazy fun to watch. They’re both adept puck movers who are sound in their own zone. Check out the feed of @TheHosers_DSJ for some in-depth fancy stats on exactly how good those two are.
  • What’s the status of Nikita Zadorov? I’m thinking he gets at least five games once he’s healthy before going back to London.

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