Evgeni Nabokov(notes) and Ryan Miller(notes) are three weeks away from trading the pressure of being the star goaltenders for NHL division leaders for the duress of starting for Olympic medal hopefuls.
Nothing seems to be fazing either one right now.
Nabokov has allowed one goal in each of his last six games, and he’ll look to lead his San Jose Sharks to a fifth consecutive victory Saturday night against the visiting Buffalo Sabres, who hope to see Miller win for the seventh time in nine starts.
The United States and Russia aren’t in the same Olympic qualification group, so there’s no guarantee Miller (27-9-5, 2.02 goals-against average) and Nabokov (29-7-8, 2.17 GAA) will square off in Vancouver.
They’ll almost certainly be in net as the Northeast Division-leading Sabres (30-12-7) and the Pacific-leading Sharks (34-10-8) square off twice before the Olympic break, though, including a Feb. 13 matchup in Buffalo.
Both have been at the top of their games recently, particularly Nabokov, who’s 5-0-1 with a 0.99 GAA in his last six starts. He made 26 saves Thursday in a 3-1 victory over Anaheim.
“He’s seeing the puck and more than anything not giving up a lot of second chances,” coach Todd McLellan said. “He’s able to smother any rebounds and our defenseman are doing a pretty good job clearing the net in front of him.”
The Sabres are 2-1-2 on a seven-game road trip, with the lone regulation loss - 5-4 to the Ducks on Tuesday - beginning with Patrick Lalime(notes) in net. He was pulled after allowing four goals in the first 10:26.
Miller gave up one the rest of the way and got to start against one of his U.S. backups Thursday in Los Angeles. Both Miller and Jonathan Quick(notes) allowed three goals in regulation, and the Kings scored twice in a shootout for a 4-3 victory.
Miller fell to 6-0-2 with a 1.94 GAA in his last eight starts.
“That was a battle on both ends,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “I thought both teams put a lot of work into it. They play hard in their end, and they’re a physical team. They’ve got some big bodies, so we knew we were in for a battle.”
Neither Miller nor Nabokov were at their best when these teams last met. Both gave up five goals in regulation Feb. 13 at HSBC Arena before Jason Pominville(notes) and Derek Roy(notes) scored in a shootout to give Buffalo a 6-5 win.
Nabokov didn’t enjoy the Sabres’ last visit to HP Pavilion, either. He was pulled after giving up four second-period goals in a 7-1 loss Dec. 8, 2007.
One of those goals was scored by Tim Connolly(notes), who had two assists Thursday to give him six goals and 17 assists during a 14-game point streak—the longest active streak in the NHL and four shy of the Sabres’ franchise record set by Gilbert Perreault in the 1971-72 season.
Patrick Marleau’s(notes) empty-netter against Anaheim was his league-leading 35th goal - the Sharks are 19-4-2 when he scores - but San Jose’s biggest defensive presence wasn’t on the ice. Dan Boyle(notes), third among NHL defensemen with 43 points, sat out with an upper-body injury and likely won’t play Saturday.