I’ve been reluctant to put something concrete together about Saturday night’s lackluster showing against the Islanders. As one commenter implied, there wasn’t much effort to comment on. Considering they are the Sabres next opponent, however, there is a lot to discuss before tonight’s puck drop.
Saturday night’s efforts were disheartening for sure, but what is interesting is that almost everyone saw it coming. Like all teams the Sabres seem to struggle in the second of back-to-back games, especially with travel involved.
Compounding the situation was the flu bug that ran through the locker room, which even made Lindy Ruff say he expected a low energy level for the game. All signs pointed to a letdown, especially after the team got off to such a good start. No team loses 10% of their games forever, and a regression to the mean in inevitable.
This makes the decision to start Ryan Miller all the more curious.
Now it’s easy to second guess a goaltending decision after the fact. With the final score and the effort in front of Miller no longer a question mark, one can easily say Miller should have taken the night off. However, considering the promises and parameters we’ve heard going into the season it is even easier to make the case for a Lalime start.
For as difficult as it is to imagine the trade deadline so early in the season, most fans have a much easier time recalling just when the Olympics start and just what Ryan Miller will be doing in Vancouver early next year. There is no rest for Ryan this year, and the workload will be significant if he has anything to do about it.
It is an unquestionable fact: Miller can’t be relied upon as heavily as he has over the last two seasons. We’ve already seen his numbers slip because of overuse in the past, and the games played this year will only be inflated with his involvement in Team USA. If there is any hope for the playoffs in Buffalo, Miller needs to be sharp and ready for hockey in April and beyond.
Which is why giving Miller a start on consecutive nights with a tired team in front of him seems foolish, even before the puck drop. I know I wasn’t the only one surprised by Ruff’s decision. We were told that Lalime was ready for a bigger share of the net duties, and he would get his chance. An overtime game less than 24 hours before a road game against one of the worst teams in the league seemed like a good time to give the backup his second start of the season.
Now we know the effort that was in front of Miller, and so I’m not trying to advocate throwing Lalime to the wolves here, but I find it hardly defensible to throw your franchise goaltender into the fire like that, either. With the schedule so spread out over the season’s first month it has been difficult to find logical starts for Lalime. Saturday seemed the perfect time to get him some reps. He would indeed see action after Miller had been chased, but by then the game was lost and the potential for a night off wasted.
But perhaps I am being too critical. Since the season has started and Miller has proven himself the frontrunner for Team USA’s starting goaltender, we have speculated as to just how ready he is for the workload. We have calculated in this invisible currency, the amount of “rest” or “fatigue” the goaltender may face months down the road.
It’s an impossible figure for even Miller to know at this point in time, let alone laypeople like us. Right now we can view Saturday as a missed opportunity, and if something happens to Miller down the stretch October 31 is circled once again as a misfire. But if the Sabres are being carried by Miller well into June, no one will second guess much of anything.
I’m trying hard not to bludgeon the dead equine any more than necessary, but it’s interesting to note that we really don’t know much of anything. Still. The season is a month old. Sabres are 8-2-1. Just over an eighth of the season has come and gone and there are still so many questions.
But I suppose that’s the fun of all this, isn’t it?