With Miller, Sabres believe anything is possible
It’s more than an hour after the Buffalo Sabres ended practice,
and goaltender Ryan Miller can still be found in full gear roaming
his familiar crease at the east end of HSBC Arena.
No, Miller doesn’t need any more time tinkering on his already
ultra-efficient puck-stopping style. With three cameras focusing in
on him and a half-dozen people in street clothes looking on,
Miller’s busy filming a promotional spot for an international
sports equipment company.
This is part of the price of fame that comes a season after
Miller – the face of the Sabres – won the Vezina Trophy and became
the star of the Winter Games. His work never seems done.
”Nope,” Miller says without complaint, as he finally makes his
way to the locker room. ”Always on.”
That is what the Sabres are counting on from their star in
preparing to open a season in which coach Lindy Ruff doesn’t shy
from declaring his team’s Stanley Cup objective.
In answering a question about Miller, Ruff quickly segued into
what he sees as the team’s bigger picture.
”Our goal here as a team is to win the Stanley Cup. We might as
well talk about that,” Ruff said. ”And I don’t think we’re that
With Miller, anything seems possible in leading to Buffalo’s
season opener at Ottawa on Friday.
He’s coming off a season in which he won 41 games to set the
franchise single-season record, and finished second in the NHL in
both goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (92.9) to win
the Vezina. Add to that the international acclaim Miller drew in
Vancouver in February, when he was named the MVP of the Olympic
Winter Games hockey tournament. Team USA won the silver medal.
”Ryan gets a lot of recognition, and deservedly so. I think
he’s the key piece to this team,” forward Thomas Vanek said.
”Obviously, any talk of the Stanley Cup, goaltending is what you
need, and we have that.”
The question for the Sabres is if they have enough everywhere
As impressive as they were in winning the Northeast Division
title to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years
last season, there are lingering concerns about a team that
collapsed in the first round when it was eliminated in six games by
Injuries and a lack of punch in an undersized lineup proved
contributing factors in how the Bruins were able to push the Sabres
Though Tyler Myers, coming off his rookie of the year campaign,
is the new star on defense, the unit is in transition after Buffalo
lost stalwarts Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman in free agency.
They’ve been replaced by the additions of Jordan Leopold and Shaone
Up front, the Sabres mostly stood pat in sticking with their
main core of forwards who have proven they can be both prolific and
No need to remind Vanek how disappointing last season was. A
series of injuries led to the three-time 30 goal-scorer’s finish of
just 28 – the fewest since his rookie year in 2005-06.
”It stinks,” Vanek said. ”It doesn’t matter, injured,
healthy, we have to be better as a group. And we weren’t good
What doesn’t bother Vanek is how Ruff has set the win-or-bust
”I’m happy Lindy came out and said it. That should be our
goal,” Vanek said. ”Now we just need to show up and actually do
it and not just always talk about it like we have in the
The Sabres have been close before as recently as 2006 and ’07,
when they reached the Eastern Conference finals only to lose to
Carolina and Ottawa, respectively.
But that was a different team, one headed by co-captains Chris
Drury and Daniel Briere. It’s no coincidence that the Sabres sudden
decline immediately followed the summer of 2007, when they lost
both Drury and Briere in free agency.
The Sabres are counting on the offseason addition of 17-year NHL
veteran Rob Niedermayer to provide both off and on-ice leadership
to a respected group that already features captain Craig Rivet and
forward Mike Grier.
”We feel like we have a really strong team,” Rivet said.
”From our first line to our fourth line, six real solid
defensemen, and the best goaltender in the world right now: I think
we’re pretty confident in what we have.”