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The Sabres Observer

Ryan Miller Critics, Where Is Your Focus?

After a rough weekend for the Sabres, when so many aspects of the team’s performance were worthy of scrutiny, the local sports talk radio station spent about 99% of its airtime yesterday talking about the backup goaltender.

Sportswriters pounced on another opportunity to trash Ryan Miller, and antagonist fans with an unconditional disdain for the franchise netminder ate it right up, other factors of equal or greater concern be damned.

Is it unworthy of discussion that Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville failed to register a shot on goal in a must win game on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre?

Is it unimportant that the Pens and Leafs went a combined 3 for 5 on the power play while Buffalo put up a goose egg given the same number of chances?

Did anyone raise their eyebrows at Cody Hodgson being pointless and a -4 over these two monumental games?

Nope, nary a word about any of this.  Many fans, writers, and radio pros seemed overcome with a state of tunnel vision where all that mattered was what happened in the blue ice.  For a group of people that keeps telling us that goaltending isn’t as important anymore, they sure spend a lot of time obsessing about it.

There’s a mindset in this town that starting your goalie 21 times in 22 games, even in the midst of fighting a battle to make the playoffs, is a travesty of such epic proportions that no team with a sane coach would ever do the same.

If that’s the case, folks, then there sure are plenty of deranged coaches in the NHL.

One of them has to be Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, who went out of his mind and started Mike Smith 21 times in 22 games between mid-January and early March.  As fate would have it, Smith won 13 of those games to bring the Coyotes to the brink of clinching a playoff berth and possibly a division title.

And you know Barry Trotz of Nashville must have been berserk when he gave Pekka Rinne 25 starts in 27 games in February and March.  All the Predators have to show for the craziness of their coach is a shot at home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

After being hired by the Kings almost four months ago, Darryl Sutter returned the favor by getting delusional and starting Jonathan Quick 21 times in 23 games from mid-January to early March.  Despite such lunacy, Los Angeles is now in great shape to win the Pacific division.

Take a look at teams that battled the Sabres for playoff positioning last year.  John Tortorella went so far off the deep end that he started Henrik Lundqvist 26 straight games from February to the end of the regular season.  Jacques Martin had the audacity to go with Carey Price in 21 of 24 games from mid-February to early April.

The Rangers made the playoffs by two points, and the Canadiens made it by five and earned the six seed for having the tiebreaker edge on Buffalo.  Is it possible that these guys knew what they were doing?

So many people wondering why Jhonas Enroth hasn’t played are the same ones that told you ahead of time that these 22 tilts for the Sabres were basically going to be playoff games.  But in hindsight, they really aren’t treating those games that way.  Think about it.  If we were in June right now, would you have expected Enroth to start more than once during a 22 game playoff run?

Miller went on a tear that saw him compile a 14-1-4 record with a 1.63 GAA and a .941 save percentage.  Then he surrendered bad goals to Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel this past weekend and folks made it sound like he instantaneously hit a wall.  Within 24 hours, we completely forgot that Miller’s off-the-charts performance was the main reason why those games were even important in the first place.

The Sabres knew they had to play over .700 hockey for two months to make the playoffs.  I guess it’s nuts to forgive Lindy Ruff for thinking that giving 4 or 5 starts to a guy who had lost 11 of his last 12 decisions wasn’t exactly conducive to making that heroic run to 8th place.

Ruff’s decision to ride Miller was one of desperation.  That’s what you’re supposed to do when the odds are so dauntingly stacked against you.  And contrary to what you’ve heard and read, that’s what other coaches of bubble teams do.  Yet here we are, 32 points in the standings later, acting like it didn’t turn out very well.

Let’s put this flawed theory to rest and focus on reality.  Playing Miller over and over again is the biggest reason why the Sabres are two points out of a playoff spot.  Many have lost sight of the fact that, based on where we were two months ago, that’s a good thing.

Twitter: @DaveDavisHockey

Filed in: | The Sabres Observer | Permalink


Vladimir16's avatar

Ryan Miller should hop on the next bus outa town. He needs to suit up for a contender and not waste his career on a mediocre team.

Posted by Vladimir16 from Grand River Valley on 04/03/12 at 04:01 PM ET

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]