Things have been up and down for Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller during the two seasons following his world-beating, Vezina-winning 2009-10 season, with this campaign being a particular struggle.
To little surprise, the Sabres have struggled with their highly-paid, seemingly elite netminder. The team came into 2011-12 with serious hype to win the Northeast Division instead of the defending champion Boston Bruins. Instead of going head-to-head with the mighty B’s, the Sabres are ranked fourth in the Northeast and No. 12 in the Eastern Conference.
There is some good news, however. Despite these significant struggles, the Sabres are still just five points behind the eighth place Washington Capitals. (Although aside from the recently struggling New Jersey Devils, it doesn’t seem likely that any of the East’s other spots are really up for grabs.)
Buffalo still being (sort of) in the hunt for a playoff spot is great news for fantasy owners who stayed patient with Ryan Miller, who’s finally paying off some of that goodwill.
MILLER’S BETTER TIMES
The American-born goalie provided his best work in quite some time by shutting down a dangerous Anaheim Ducks attack last night. The Ducks fired 43 shots on Miller but couldn’t solve him once as he earned his fourth shutout of 2011-12.
He’s actually been playing his best hockey of the season lately, though. Interestingly enough, it seemed to start on Jan. 24, which followed arguably his worst stretch (in which he went 2-7-0 in nine often-ugly games).
Miller is now 9-2-3 since Jan. 24 and hasn’t lost in regulation (4-0-2 plus a non-decision) since Feb. 14. The Sabres still face a steep climb to make the playoffs but Miller could be an excellent asset in your own drive to the fantasy postseason.
HEATED GAME IN DALLAS
It seems fitting that the weather is warming up in Dallas because there was plenty of heat in the Pittsburgh Penguins-Dallas Stars game last night.
The headline-grabbing moment happened when Eric Nystrom clobbered Kris Letang with a hit that has generated plenty of controversy and could also mean a serious injury for Letang. There haven’t been any concrete updates about Letang’s condition, but it’s tough not to wonder if he suffered his second concussion of the season on that borderline check. He didn’t return to the game, which is actually good news because a hasty comeback could have been disastrous – even from a sheer PR standpoint for the concussion controversy-soaked Penguins.
BENN, NEAL RETURN
Any Stars-Penguins match will likely be an interesting development for James Neal, who was traded from the Stars to Pittsburgh in exchange for Alex Goligoski (borderline NHL’er Matt Niskanen also went to the Penguins). Neal played in his first game back in Dallas last night, firing three shots on goal but only managing to find the net during an unusually captivating shootout.
If you ask many Stars followers, the team decided that Neal was expendable because of the ascension of Jamie Benn. After missing six games with a lacerated leg (yikes), Benn made his return to NHL action on Wednesday. He took a regrettable penalty but made up for it with a goal and also collected a shootout tally (which obviously won’t mean anything to people in most leagues, but still). Benn also had 18:05 of ice time, so it seems like he’s ramping up to near-full speed pretty quickly.
It's a small shame those two teams won't see each other often because it was a violent, exciting and all-around outstanding contest.
The St. Louis Blues moved back into first place (based on tie-breakers) in front of the Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division after beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2, but the win had some other interesting factors. One was that Jaroslav Halak gave the team two 20-win netminders. Halak is 20-10-5 while Brian Elliott is 20-7-2 … The other interesting tidbit is that Andy McDonald scored two goals to push his season points total to 10 in 13 games. Kevin Shattenkirk was impressive in his own right with a goal and two assists … Ron Wilson probably doesn’t feel any better than he did on Wednesday morning. A game after inspiring “Fire Wilson” chants, the team seemingly had the Chicago Blackhawks on the ropes 3-1 only to allow four consecutive goals and then lose 5-4. That could end badly … Marian Hossa scored twice in that game, including an impressive sprawling effort … Dustin Penner’s nightmare season continues with a divorce … Cody Hodgson had no points, a +1 rating, four shots on goal and 16:04 of time on ice in his Sabres debut.
Small-time good news: Jonathan Toews is at least engaging in off-ice workouts … Vincent Lecavalier looks like he could be back in mid-March after dealing with a hand injury … Ryan Callahan’s foot injury will probably keep him out of tonight’s contest for the Rangers … Radek Dvorak and Steve Sullivan were also banged up in that Penguins-Stars game … Kevin Klein is day-to-day with an upper-body issue. (Click here for the full injury list.)