The Buffalo Sabres’ Ryan Miller is among the NHL’s best goalies so far this season, but his last meeting with the Minnesota Wild is one he would probably like to forget and definitely wouldn’t want to repeat.
Miller looks to help the Sabres stay unbeaten in regulation on Thursday when they visit the Wild, who haven’t suffered a loss yet this season.
In a 5-1 defeat to Minnesota on March 9, 2007, Miller gave up four goals on 22 shots and didn’t see the ice for most of the third period. Heading into this game, though, Miller’s play is one of the reasons why the Sabres are off to a 5-0-1 start.
Miller struggled at this point last season, giving up 23 goals in his first seven games. He settled down to surrender 25 over his next 12, but the Sabres got off to a 3-5-0 start and eventually missed out on a third consecutive playoff appearance by four points.
This season, the seventh-year goalie has surrendered just six goals on 105 shots and is among the league leaders with a 1.45 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and four victories.
He’s also a major reason why the Sabres are among the NHL’s best at killing penalties. They had denied opponents a goal on 26 straight power-play opportunities until Boston scored in the second period on Tuesday. Buffalo has allowed just one goal in 29 power-play chances.
“He’s made the big saves when we needed them, and those big saves give the team confidence, they give you momentum,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “He’s been right there for us.”
Miller has also shined under the pressure of shootouts, letting one of seven shots get past him. In Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Bruins, he denied four of five skaters in the shootout. Miller stopped 30 shots in regulation and overtime as the Sabres rallied from a two-goal deficit.
“Ryan was unbelievable,” said Thomas Vanek, who scored the deciding goal in the shootout and leads the Sabres with seven goals and nine points.
Minnesota has started its third straight season with a 4-0-0 mark after winning its first five games last season and first six in 2006-07. The Wild return home after three straight road victories, including 1-0 in a shootout over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
“We needed a good start and we got a good start for the season, but it’s still 78 games left, so a lot of work ahead,” Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom said. “So far, so good.”
Like Miller, Backstrom has started the season well, earning victories in every game and allowing just seven goals on 121 shots. The Wild have excelled at killing penalties, not allowing a power-play goal in 15 chances. They’ve also converted on six of 20 power-play opportunities.
A pair of surprising players have led the way offensively for Minnesota. Mikko Koivu tops the Wild with nine points while Antti Miettinen, who had a career-high 15 goals last season, has a team-best five.
The Wild have won three of the last four meetings with the Sabres to even the all-time series at 4-4-0.