By Tim Schmitt
TORONTO — Ryan Miller might have struggled in shootouts last year, but stopping penalty shots in regulation has never been a problem for the Sabres netminder.
Miller kept his perfect string against penalty shots intact during Thursday’s contest 4-1 win over Toronto at Air Canada Centre after Derek Roy’s hand pass in the crease gave Niklas Hagman a breakaway with exactly a minute left in the first period.
With the puck loose and with Roy on his hands and knees trying to help Miller, the forward clearly grabbed the puck and threw it away from danger. Referees immediately pointed to center ice, signaling a penalty shot.
Hagman came in for the shot, and Miller tried to poke check him, but missed. Still, Hagman’s shot caught the right pad of Miller and said high over the net.
For Miller, that made it eight straight penalty shots turned aside.
Miller’s streak started on March 25, 2006 when he stopped Boston’s Travis Green. He’s also stopped Philly’s Mike Richards (2006), Ottawa’s Jason Spezza (2006), Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik (2007), Rick Nash of Columbus (2007), Arron Asham of New Jersey (2007) and Nashville’s Scott Nichol (2008).
After individually calling out the play of Jochen Hecht after Tuesday’s loss, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff relegated Hecht to a reduced role in Thursday’s victory.
Hecht played just three shifts in the opening period, and only six more in the second period.
The former first-liner was skipped over through the first rotations of lines, but later was matched with Ales Kotalik and Adam Mair.
On the season, Hecht is minus-7.
Daniel Paille left the game after taking a puck off his ankle in the first period. Pavel Kubina wound up from the point and fired a rocket that sent Paille down quickly. Play continued and Alexei Ponikarovsky banged one off the goal post.
Paille limped to get off the ice, but it was finally blow dead while the Leafs had possession in the corner.
The winger did return early in the second, but didn’t play much after.
The Sabres caught a break in getting Curtis Joseph, whose only win of the season came on Tuesday against Atlanta. Joseph, now 41, is clearly a shadow of his old self, and had yet to win in eight appearances before Tuesday.
Joseph has now given up four or more goals in five of nine appearances, and coming into Thursday, his save percentage was a horrendous .855.
Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.