Double Minors: Miller steals another for Buffalo

Ryan Miller has been playing at a level reminiscent of his 2009-10 season. The last two nights of hockey have been nothing short of spectacular. After stopping 43 shots against Anaheim on Wednesday (20 in the 3rd), Miller turned away 39 more last night against San Jose.

Buffalo inched two points closer to a playoff spot on the back of Miller. Drew Stafford picked up the lone goal for Buffalo in the victory. The story again was Miller’s stellar play, but his collision with Pat Kaleta late in the third period may end up being the most important storyline.

After making a solid glove save on Brent Burns, Miller was struck by Kaleta as he slid into the goaltender on the tail end of the play. It looked as if Kaleta was helped by Ryane Clowe a little on the way, his momentum carried Miller’s right leg hard into the post. From what I could tell, Miller’s contact with the post was fairly significant. He struggled a bit and avoided pushing with his right leg for the remainder of the game.

Bottom line, if Miller is injured in any significant way, the chances of the Sabres sneaking into a playoff spot would seem to be unlikely. I’ll hold out to see more evidence, but I’m hoping that the pain he was dealing with didn’t go beyond the third period.

The Sabres do need to find a way to start putting pucks in the net on a regular basis. Miller’s play has been stellar, but Buffalo can’t count on Miller to steal every point for the rest of the season.The Sabres have found a way to play decent defensive hockey without Paul Gaustad on the roster, it doesn’t seem as if they miss him too much just yet. But they were chasing quite a bit in the third period and it would seem as if they could use a solid defensive center at times like that.

  • I’m glad to see Ryan Miller fully turn his game around. Obviously he is finally healthy and focused on his game. Good on him to have gotten back to the style of goaltending that made many consider him to be elite.
  • Ville Leino is a waste playing center. I like his game, he had turned things around playing wing with Buffalo’s better forwards. But his game is wasted, especially at center on a checking line. He’s stuck in a tough situation based on the center and wing depth, but I’d like to see some sort of solution for getting his offense going.
  • Drew Stafford has gotten things going a bit. He’s always been a streaky scorer and it looks like he has finally hit a streak. It has been two games, but putting him with Cody Hodgson looks like a great decision.
  • Hodgson is showing some of the skills that made him the tenth overall pick in 2008. He’s got slick hands and strong hockey sense. I’ve loved his game these last two nights. Hopefully the goals aren’t too far behind.
  • Despite Tyler Myers having a couple rough nights carrying the puck, the Sabres defense has remained strong as a unit. Hopefully Robyn Regehr doesn’t miss any time due to the injury he suffered in the second period.
  • Something needs to be done about Buffalo’s power play. The unit has been giving up chances and has been disjointed entering the zone and setting up their rotation. Both units need to find some consistency and soon (I am well aware of the numbers, too). The power play very well could make or break this playoff run.

Game Summary/Event Summary

 

The Morning Skate: Western swing heads north to San Jose

The Buffalo Sabres unlikely push for a playoff spot continues to get tougher. While the Sabres are doing their part – 8-3-3 since the All-Star break – they continue to see formidable opponents on a nightly basis.

After dispatching the surging Ducks last night, Buffalo is back against another Western Conference foe tonight in San Jose. The Sabres follow tonight’s game with a Saturday showdown with Vancouver, Monday’s game against Winnipeg and another set of Wednesday/Thursday back-to-back games next week.

The Sabres are in need of every point available but are in the midst of a stretch that sees them play six games in nine nights. Their last regulation loss came against Philadelphia, also the last game in which Jhonas Enroth started. The rookie was hardly to blame for the loss, but the Sabres need a greater contribution from him if they hope to continue this surge.

Despite Ryan Miller’s shutout last night, I would start Enroth today. The Canucks offer no more relief than the Sharks do and Enroth will likely be called upon next week against either the Hurricanes (Wednesday) or the Bruins (Thursday). Knowing how Lindy Ruff operates, Miller will be in net tonight. I would say it is the wrong move, get him some rest now. Miller played the last set of back-to-back games and needs to maintain this tremendous stretch of hockey he is playing.

Lindy Ruff needs to find the faith that Enroth instilled in him last season and early this year. Enroth is capable of being a 2A goalie at the minimum in the NHL. Now it is on Ruff to stick with his schedule and let Enroth be that player.

The Sabres face a strong Sharks squad that just had one of their young stars traded from the lineup in hopes of finding a little more grit and pugnacity for their own playoff push. San Jose is a deep roster with strong goaltending. The Sabres saw backup Antero Niittymaki last season, expect to see Antti Niemi tonight. His game is about blocking and simply getting in the way. For some reason the Sabres struggle with these goaltenders.

Highlighted Matchup

Lindy Ruff vs. Joe Thornton & Co. Buffalo no longer has a formidable shutdown line to match their opponents’ studs. I find it hard to believe that Ville Leino, Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta are even Ruff’s second choice for a proper checking line. I would think that Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera will be the primary duo tasked with matching San Jose’s top line.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

SJ: Antti Niemi

Last Meeting:

Sabres 3 – Sharks 0, HP Pavilion, 1/6/2011