The Buffalo Sabres’ trying season might now be facing its most difficult obstacle – life without star goaltender Ryan Miller.
The reality of that situation will settle in Monday night when the Sabres visit the Dallas Stars after shipping Miller to St. Louis on Friday.
"When a guy like Ryan Miller gets traded, that’s not a normal player getting traded," interim coach Ted Nolan said. "He was the face of the organization for a long, long time. To lose a player like him, it’s tough."
It got tougher in Buffalo a day after the trade when president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine resigned. Amid the turnover, though, the Sabres (18-34-8) have won three straight.
"I think we’re all numb right now so right now, we’re just going to try to get this team focused on the Dallas Stars and that’s our next opponent," Nolan told the team’s official website. "We’ve got two new players in here and they come into this situation."
Dallas (28-22-10) can’t be thrilled to see Miller join a Central Division rival, but at least it won’t have to face him as it goes for a third win to close out a four-game home stretch.
The Stars had won two in a row before a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday. Antoine Roussel and Vernon Fiddler each had a goal and an assist but those came after the Lightning had built a 3-0 lead.
"They got one goal that bounced in off a guy’s pants and another off a deflection. It wasn’t our best start, but those kinds of things happen," Fiddler told the team’s website. "We can’t let that happen. We’ve got to be in every game. You give them a (three)-goal lead and it’s tough to come back."
Kari Lehtonen allowed four goals on 21 shots after going 3-0-1 with a 1.25 goals-against average in his previous four starts.
The Stars likely won’t face goalie Jaroslav Halak, who along with right wing Chris Stewart and prospect William Carrier came to the Sabres in exchange for Miller and center Steve Ott, with Buffalo also getting a 2015 first-round pick and a conditional pick. Halak said Sunday he wasn’t expecting to play against Dallas but Stewart will.
Going from one of the top teams in the Western Conference to the worst team in the NHL rattled Halak and Stewart, but both are focused on making the best of the situation.
"I’ll tell you, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed at first, but if you think I’m going to come in here and pout and feel sorry for myself, that’s not the kind of person that I am," Stewart said. "So I’ve got to make the best of this situation and look at the positives. They’ve got a good young team here."
The Sabres’ latest win came immediately after news of the trade, a 4-2 home victory over San Jose on Friday. Jhonas Enroth looked plenty capable in net with 36 saves, and he’s won the team’s two games since returning from the Olympic break after he went 0-10-4 from Nov. 2-Feb. 6.
"I was a bit more nervous than usual but I told myself I had nothing to lose," said Enroth, who played unexpectedly due to the timing of the deal.
The Stars are going for a two-game sweep of the Sabres after winning 4-3 in Buffalo on Oct. 28. The Sabres’ Matt Moulson scored twice while Dallas’ Tyler Seguin had a goal and an assist.