If you missed the game and look at the box score, this one looks pretty impressive for both teams. Vanek and Connolly continued to do their thing, and Booth and Horton each got one. Miller’s numbers are pretty strong, and Vokoun wasn’t far behind. In the shootout Ales probably made a nice move, and Roy probably did something special to seal the deal.
The problem is that things didn’t go exactly like that. Both Sabres goals were the result of good bounces, and a major mistake by Derek Roy cost them the lead and gave up a point. Even the clinching goal in the shootout was a good bounce, with Derek Roy pulling a Phil Kessel on Vokoun. Miller was just as good as the numbers said, but there was a lot more to the story than the stars playing well tonight.
That’s not to say the Connolly and Vanek goals weren’t the result of good work, because they were. It’s hard to criticize any goal, but you have to admit there was a lot of luck involved in beating Vokoun in regulation. If you read Sabres Edge yesterday you know the shootout is a little different, but the Sabres had good chances tonight that just didn’t go in. Two weaker goals did, and sometimes that’s the kind of luck you need.
There are some people that believe the mark of a good team is getting those bounces to go your way, and I think there’s some truth to that. Earlier this year those bounces went the other way, and the play that matched it wasn’t all that great. Points were lost on a few chances other teams had that went in, and good efforts were wasted by a bit of misfortune. Tonight was another solid effort, but one that got two points because of those odd bounces. Perhaps it is an equilibrium of sorts, or maybe the team is finally getting some things to go their way.
Still, I think the big story is how Ryan Miller has been playing recently. We all understand how important Miller is to the stretch run, and with Patrick Lalime looking less reliable than we’d hoped, his play only becomes that much more important. He has been great over the last half dozen or so games, and the Sabres’ record in January shows it.
What strikes me the most is how he well he reacted to that penalty shot. He got beat clean by David Booth, giving up his first career penalty shot goal. No matter how mentally tough you are, that’s got to get to you. Miller has a very strong psyche for a goaltender but you can tell when things get to him, and earlier this season he showed that at times.
So when Booth came up in the shootout, you knew it would be an important second shooter. Already up 1-0, stopping Booth means two chances to win and a huge psychological advantage for your shooters. Thing is, he trains with Booth during the summer, and has seen him evolve into the player he is today. The two know each other, and at that point Miller knows that Booth can beat him. We’ve seen this kind of showdown before. Kessel last year. Briere, too.
Both times last season Miller got beat, but we’ve already seen him stone Drury this month, and seeing him completely dominate Booth that second time around was the best possible outcome of this game. The Sabres played another solid road game and came away with two points, but Ryan Miller proved once again why he’s one of the best goaltenders in the league. Forget All Star Games, forget who gets articles written about them. What matters are moments like that, when your goaltender comes through at the most important of times.
Dare I say this is another sign of a good team pulling things together? Another win on the road and the All Star break coming fast. A goaltender fans are starting to trust, and more importantly is starting to trust himself. The back end is still a mess and Mike Weber just played 23+ minutes, but I’d rather see that and know Miller will be there to take up the slack. He’s done it before, and at this point I can’t find a reason to think he won’t do it again.