During a season in which very little as gone right for Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres, the goalie prefers hedging his bets on when — or even whether — he’ll catch Dominik Hasek in the franchise record book.
And it makes no difference that Miller’s 234 career wins have him only one away from breaking The Dominator’s mark, or that it could happen as early as Saturday, when the Sabres travel to play the New York Islanders.
”Just hoping to get it,” he said. ”One game at a time.”
For a player who two years ago was at the peak of his game after winning the Vezina Trophy and leading the United States to win a silver-medal at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Miller has good reason to be cautious.
By many measures, this has been the seven-year veteran’s most confidence-testing season, playing on a high-priced team that’s been one of the NHL’s biggest flops. And much like the team in front of him, Miller hasn’t been immune from the troubles, which have ranged from injuries – he missed nine games with a concussion/whiplash – criticism or been the target of trade talk, which Miller insists he’s not going anywhere.
So when it comes to breaking Hasek’s record, the thought might not be the furthest thing on Miller’s mind, but it’s not exactly a hot topic of discussion.
”There’s not a lot of hype or fanfare about it right now just because of where we’re at,” Miller said. ”I feel like it’s a nice accomplishment, something to look back on. But I understand why right now it feels like it’s not quite as exciting or intriguing.”
Miller and the Sabres have been relegated to mostly afterthoughts as a result of a two-plus-month swoon. At 21-24-6, they began Friday sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference, 10 points out of playoff contention.
Not all of the fault lies on Miller, who has a 13-15-3 record.
The Sabres offense is anemic, having produced three or more goals just four times in its past 19 games. And then there’s a rash of injuries which has led to every regular, except captain Jason Pominville, to miss at least one game.
The turning point of the Sabres season, not coincidently, centered on Miller during a 6-2 loss at Boston on Nov. 12, when the goalie was bowled over by Bruins forward Milan Lucic. It was a play that led to Miller’s concussion and raised questions about his teammates for failing to deliver payback against Lucic for running their star.
The Sabres have gone 11-19-6 since, during a stretch in which they set a franchise low by losing 12 straight in regulation on the road.
Miller missed nine games, and Sabres owner Terry Pegula has suggested his goalie might have rushed back too soon.
Last month, Miller acknowledged he was struggling to find his confidence, saying, ”It’s frustrating as hell sometimes.”
It’s not been until the past two weeks when Miller’s finally shown signs of regaining his form.
He’s gone 2-0-1 while allowing two goals in his past three starts, including a 1-0 shootout loss to the Rangers on Wednesday.
”I feel like I’ve got myself in a better place mentally and physically,” Miller said. ”My game is really close to where I want it. I’m just trying to keep it there and hold it there.”
Miller’s teammates are seeing a difference.
Forward Ville Leino smiled when asked about how he and Miller playfully wrestled on the ice during practice Thursday.
”He’s more relaxed. Sometimes you need to have fun,” Leino said. ”He’s playing better. He’s more excited. You can see it.”
Miller isn’t counting himself or the Sabres out.
And who knows, maybe breaking Hasek’s record could prove to be something meaningful in a season that’s so far been mostly forgettable.
”It’s something that can hopefully turn the tide, where it’ll be just one highlight from a good season,” Miller said. ”Everybody’s looking for something hopeful.”
NOTES: Miller acknowledges he’s had the benefit of padding his victory total over Hasek as a result of the NHL introducing the shootout in 2005-06. Miller’s record is 234-141-47, with 32 wins coming in the shootout. Hasek went 234-170-70 in Buffalo without the benefit of shootout victories. … Miller once wore No. 39, the same number as Hasek. It was only after the Sabres drafted Miller out of Michigan State and he turned pro that he switched to No. 30 to not draw comparisons to Hasek. … Miller’s 234 wins are tied with Eddie Johnston on the NHL list, according to STATS LLC.