Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

November 7, 2011

Miller out to prove net worth

BUFFALO — Struggling goalie Ryan Miller said he understands the Sabres’ current net situation. He can “live with” sitting occasionally. Still, the star’s angry, frustrated with himself he hasn’t played since getting yanked minutes into his last appearance last week.

The franchise netminder’s performed so erratically recently he watched consecutive games for the first time in almost five years, giving way to hot backup Jhonas Enroth over the weekend and fuelling a possible goaltending controversy.

“But I want to be called upon,” Miller passionately told a throng of reporters and cameras Monday inside First Niagara Center. “I’m working, getting myself ready to play. I don’t want things to get mixed up. I’m here to win. That’s the emotion you get from me. If I’m discouraged and if I’m (ticked) off, that’s just how it is.

“I want to win. I don’t want to be out there getting scored on. I don’t want to be pulled out of the game. I want to (expletive) win the game.”

Miller hasn’t won since Oct. 20, a stretch in which he’s 0-4 with a 3.91 goals-against average and .874 save percentage. He’s also 0-4 at home this year. He hasn’t played since allowing three goals and enduring jeers in the opening 6:23 of a 3-2 home loss Wednesday to Philadelphia.

Don’t forget, however, Miller’s start — 4-1, 1.61 and .950 — was tremendous.

Enroth, meanwhile, won both weekend nods, including a 25-save effort in a 3-2 shootout win Saturday in Ottawa, a game most expected Miller would start. The rookie’s 4-0 this season and 13-2-2 going back to last year. His other stats — 1.41 and .952 — are spectacular.

Who starts tonight against the Winnipeg Jets? Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wouldn’t say.

“Winnipeg’s here (practicing) and they’re listening, and that makes their job a little easier,” Ruff said.

Ruff said he’s given the goalies their schedules for the week. The Sabres also host Ottawa on Friday and play in Boston on Saturday. Any plans can be changed, however. Ruff’s already done it three times — on the season-opening European trip, after Miller blanked Florida three weeks ago and then Saturday.

Miller was told he wouldn’t start on the team’s charter flight to Ottawa, something he accepted during a conversation that had “no emotion,” Ruff said.

Nonetheless, Ruff believes “there’s a lot of fire there.”

“He’s emotional about his game and that’s what you like,” he said. “I like him the way he is. He’s a competitive goaltender. … If you know Ryan, I don’t think he’s as fired up as he’s been in the past. Today was sort of a down day for him.”

Miller said sitting Saturday wasn’t “all that surprising.”

“I pride myself on being able to get back in net, get back in the saddle,” he said. “If you have to wait about a week for that, it’s not ideal for me. But I’ll do my best when Lindy tells me it’s time to go.”

That should be soon. Make no mistake, Miller’s still the Sabres’ top goalie.

“Ryan is the No. 1 goalie,” Sabres winger Thomas Vanek said. “It’s not an issue in the locker room at all.”

When “sharing the crease” was mentioned, Ruff said he doesn’t “know if we’re going to share yet.”

“We’ve looked and thought it would be important to get Jhonas 20-plus games in a season, especially with the number of back-to-backs we play,” he said.

The Sabres play a whopping 21 sets of back-to-back games, and Enroth’s proven ability to spell Miller is “a little bit of an equalizer for us,” Ruff said.

“It was great to see him play in back-to-back,” he said. “He’s played well, and you can stick a fresh goaltender you know is going to play well in that situation. I think it gives us something that could almost put us on a level playing field with the teams that aren’t playing back-to-back when we walk into their building.”

But why has Enroth, a 23-year-old neophyte, enjoyed so much success while the 31-year-old Miller, a Vezina Trophy winner, has struggled before the same players?

One theory has the Sabres playing harder in front of Enroth. Miller, after all, has bailed them so many times in the past. He’s got their backs, right?

Ruff quickly debunked that thought, pointing out the 43 shots Enroth faced Oct. 27 in a 4-2 home win over Columbus.

“Ask Jhonas at times how we played in front against Columbus,” Ruff said. “We gave up a record number of odd-numbered situations in that game. I think that you’re just trying to look for stuff that really isn’t there. We got a little bit off track. We’ve got off track in certain periods throughout the year.”

Miller’s gotten off track before, too. He struggled parts of last season, including a horrific February stretch in which he became arguably the team’s weakest link. But he bounced back splendidly.

Right now, Miller’s only about two weeks removed from a hot stretch.

“My game’s not that far off,” Miller said. “It’s a question of doing the little things and getting back to what makes me a successful goaltender. Sometimes the difference is very miniscule between winning and losing.”

Notes: Center Jochen Hecht (concussion) is symptom-free again, Ruff said. Hecht skated alone after practice Monday. He had been practicing fully until about 10 days ago, when he started experiencing headaches. Now he can “start ramping it up again.” Hecht hasn’t played yet this season. … Winger Tyler Ennis (ankle sprain) could try skating lightly today or Wednesday, Ruff said. Ennis hasn’t played since Oct. 22.

 

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