Monday night’s game in Toronto never felt in doubt for the Buffalo Sabres.
Sure, there was drama at the end and Ryan Miller currently leads the league with 17 disallowed goals in two games. Nazem Kadri scored a Hurricanes Special off the endboards to make it close. Jason Pominville sent one off the side of an empty net and no one could clear the puck in the last two minutes of the third period.
It’s a wonderful thing to expect—and receive—a win. It doesn’t matter if the anticipation is misguided. You can only take the data you’re given and use your best judgement, and going into Monday night the evidence seemed to point Buffalo’s way.
Toronto didn’t look incredibly impressive in a win against Montreal on Saturday. Where Buffalo surged to a win against the Flyers, the Leafs survived a murky Hockey Night in Canada opener only made palatable in hindsight when Vancouver was blown to smithereens in the late game.
Still, the head-to-head bullhonky doesn’t matter as much as one simple piece of evidence: Ryan Miller was starting in net for the Sabres.
Miller’s career record against Toronto is now 28-14-0. James Mirtle calls that stat gaudy. I call it downright relaxing. How can you not expect Miller to play well against Toronto? He’s always beat them.
Sabres fans give Miller a hard time for his near-shutouts and an inability to “steal” important games, but against Toronto the numbers—and our eyes—don’t lie. Miller owns the Leafs, and you knew early on Monday evening that things were going Buffalo’s way. The calm execution behind Buffalo’s triangle on the 5-on-3 late in the first period should have been enough to calm any Sabres fan’s anxiety. Relax, guys, the scarf-wearers aren’t going home happy tonight.
There are times I don’t know what to make of Ryan Miller. It’s easy to get caught up in those occasional letdown goals and wonder just how he stacks up against the other starters in the league. A look at recent Cup winners makes you wonder if paying for an elite goaltender is truly essential to building a winner.
A macro look at goaltending in the NHL can be interesting, but on a night-by-night basis, Monday’s win in Toronto shows you exactly why Ryan Miller is so valuable. Miller alone is a huge reason the Sabres have been better than Toronto for the better part of a decade. You look at the schedule, find the Leafs games and pencil Miller’s name into the starting slot. You expect a good show because he’s delivered so many times before.
Halfway through the game, Buffalo is up 2-0 and Leafs fans are stewing. They’re sitting on their hands and staring up at the banner-filled rafters cursing the American goalie they just can’t get it past. They’re wondering if Scrivens or Reimer or even Luongo can match him someday.
Ryan Miller playing the Leafs is a rerun, and I can’t wait to watch it again.