Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

December 23, 2011

Miller upset with hit and runs

TORONTO — It’s a disturbing trend for Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. If you watch some hockey highlights these days, there’s an excellent chance of seeing a goaltender getting flattened by an opponent, often in his own crease.

Miller, a member of the NHL’s competition committee, wants it to stop. Goalies need to be protected.

“It’s just the way the game’s going,” Miller told a throng of cameras and reporters Thursday prior to the Sabres’ 3-2 loss to the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. “Obviously, I pay attention to other games in the league and I think it’s becoming a little bit of the guys are trying to arrive at the net without a plan.”

In the past six weeks, the 31-year-old’s endured two huge hits. First, Boston’s Milan Lucic leveled him as they chased down a loose puck Nov. 12. A concussion sidelined Miller the next nine games. Lucic wasn’t suspended.

Then, in Miller’s return Dec. 3, Nashville’s Jordin Tootoo steamrolled him in his crease. The NHL banned him two games.

On Tuesday, Winnipeg’s Evander Kane plowed into the Islanders’ Al Montoya, concussing the goalie. On Wednesday, Vancouver’s Jannik Hansen skated straight into Detroit’s Jimmy Howard. Hansen scored on the play.

Following the game, Howard said he was “sick and tired of getting run over.”

“I’ve heard some funny analogies,” Miller said. “I ran into (former referee) Bill McCreary the other day and he just said, ‘If it’s an alligator pit, they’d stop.’ But it’s not — you know, it’s where you go to score goals. These guys have the ability to stop on a dime, turn, cut, take a hit.”

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who declared it “open season” on goalies after Lucic’s hit, repeated the line again to the large Toronto media contingency.

“All you have to do is turn on TSN this morning and goalies getting bumped falls almost in the open season category,” Ruff said. “ … We’re in a dangerous territory for some of that stuff.”

Of course, if skaters stop charging hard to the net, coaches will get on them.

“The goal scoring is tough enough, if you don’t go to the net, every coach in this league yells, ‘You got to get bodies to the net. You got to get people to the paint,’” Ruff said. “If Kane doesn’t go to the net, his coach may be screaming, ‘you got to get to the net.’”

Miller added: “Guys are going to go out of their way to bring the puck to the net. It’s part of the game on one hand, but another part of the game is knowing what to do when you get the puck in front of the net.”

•••

Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta (groin) returned after sitting eight straight games and 12 of the last 13.

Struggling defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani was a healthy scratch the second straight game.

“I’ve done OK,” Gragnani, who’s a plus-11, said about his play. “Obviously, I had a tough one in Pittsburgh. That’s last week.”

•••

Sabres winger Cody McCormick, shelved 10 games by a concussion recently, is slowly finding a groove again, Ruff said Thursday morning.

The 28-year-old played a season-high 12:53 in the Sabres’ 4-1 loss Tuesday in Ottawa. Thursday, his seventh game back, he skated only 4:43, however.

“He’s close. I think anytime you come back the first couple are tough,” Ruff said. “I think he’s skating better now. I’d like to see a little bit (more) puck possession. ... Physically, he’s been involved. I think he’s had one scrap since he’s come back. I think that tells you he’s pretty close to his game.”

Through 24 games, McCormick’s the only regular Sabres forward still goalless. He had four at this time last season and finished with a career-high eight.

Once McCormick gets one, “You know it’s all going to come after that,” he said. “So it’s just getting to the areas where the puck’s going to be, I guess. I got to maybe get a greasy kind of goal.”

•••

Leafs backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who’s sat six of the last seven games, was swarmed by the media after leaving the ice Thursday morning. Why? Gustavsson faced shots from singer Justin Bieber a day earlier on the ACC ice. The teen idol was skating for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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