While the St. Louis Blues made a major move to upgrade their goaltending for what they hope is a deep playoff run, their more immediate concern is to find some offense.
On the same night Ryan Miller could make his St. Louis debut, the Blues try to avoid being blanked in three straight games for the first time ever Sunday night when they face the Phoenix Coyotes, losers of three straight.
Among the NHL leaders with a 2.27 goals-against average, St. Louis (39-14-6) made a bold statement Friday when it acquired Miller and gritty veteran center Steve Ott from Buffalo for No. 1 goaltender Jaroslav Halak, forward Chris Stewart, prospect William Carrier and two draft picks.
"The management and ownership is really committed to winning, and winning now, and that’s partly shown in the move we’ve made," forward David Backes said. "Ryan Miller is an all-world goalie that has shown it time and time again."
Miller, MVP of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the Vezina Trophy winner that same year, broke in with the Sabres in 2002 and is the franchise leader with 284 victories and 540 games. Posting a 15-22-3 record and 2.72 goals-against average this season, the 33-year-old had been expected to be dealt while in the final year of his contract with a club that’s rebuilding.
"I’m thankful to everybody in Buffalo, friends, fans, the organization from the top down, management over the years that believed in me," Miller said.
"I’m very excited for the opportunity to have a new adventure, a new opportunity. I have a strong sense that (the Blues) have a special team."
Miller will be counted on to help St. Louis take the next step after it was eliminated by Los Angeles in the Western Conference semifinals in 2012 and in the quarterfinals last season.
"The deal was made on the here and now. We’ll worry about the future after the season," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Obviously, Ryan Miller’s resume speaks for itself. It gives us a better chance for success."
Though the Blues are among the top teams in the league this season, they’ve suffered back-to-back 1-0 losses at Vancouver and NHL-leading Anaheim since returning from the Olympic break, which they entered on a 6-1-1 run.
St. Louis, which totaled at least three goals in four straight games prior to the break, has managed 38 shots over the last two contests.
"We’ve just got to put a couple in the net and we’ll get going," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said after Friday’s defeat to Anaheim.
While the Blues are in danger of dropping three in a row for the first time this season, they have posted a 13-5 scoring advantage while winning three straight at Phoenix (27-22-11). The teams split the first two meetings of 2013-14, both in St. Louis.
The Coyotes’ three consecutive defeats were on the road, the first of those coming Feb. 8 against Dallas just before the break. Phoenix returned from the time off with a 3-2 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Thursday, then yielded three third-period goals in a 4-2 defeat to Colorado on Friday.
Just outside of the playoff picture, the club has little room for error going forward.
”We have to figure out a way to get more points," said forward Shane Doan, who scored twice against the Avalanche to snap a six-game point drought.
After watching backup Thomas Greiss make 29 saves Friday, Mike Smith could be back in net for Phoenix. Smith has a 2.01 GAA in the two games against the Blues this season, but endured a rough performance in a 6-3 defeat the last time St. Louis visited Phoenix on March 7.
Miller is 6-0-0 with a 1.15 GAA against the Coyotes. He stopped 38 shots in Buffalo’s 3-2 win at Phoenix on Jan. 30.