The Northeast Division-leading Buffalo Sabres are still trying to solve their troubles on the road, and now Ryan Miller(notes) is struggling. Visiting the sputtering Tampa Bay Lightning might be just what they need to get on track.
Miller will try to rebound from the shortest start of his career as the Sabres look to continue their dominance of the Lightning on Thursday night.
The Sabres (36-22-10) have dropped the first two games of their five-game trip, losing 4-3 to Atlanta on Tuesday night to fall to 1-7-3 in their last 11 away from home.
Buffalo, which leads Ottawa by three points in the division, plays nine of its remaining 14 games on the road, including a three-game trip to cap the season.
Miller is also trying to shake off some sluggish play on the road. He’s 1-4-3 with a 3.37 goals-against average in his last nine away games, lasting a career-low 5:40 on Thursday after allowing three goals on five shots.
“It’s never an easy decision,” coach Lindy Ruff said of pulling Miller. “It’s something you don’t want to do, but sometimes you have to.”
Despite his struggles on the road, Miller is still among the league leaders with a 2.21 GAA and .929 save percentage - both career highs - and is considered a contender for the Vezina Trophy.
Miller, the MVP at last month’s Olympics after leading the United States to the silver medal, may have an ideal chance to rebound against Tampa Bay (28-29-12).
He’s a big reason the Sabres have won 15 of 18 meetings with the Lightning, starting each of those games while posting a 2.75 GAA. His 24 saves helped the Sabres win 3-2 in a shootout in the last meeting at St. Pete Times Forum on Oct. 24.
The Lightning’s chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07 have taken a severe hit with a 2-8-1 stretch that includes four losses in five home games.
They’re six points back of eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference with 13 games left.
Tampa Bay is having a hard time finding the back of the net, losing the last two by 2-1 scores, including Tuesday against Phoenix.
“It’s been a struggle to score goals,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “I can’t question the team’s courage. You’ve got to get players to go in front of the net.
“It’s tough because these are must-win games.”
Some production from Steve Stamkos could help. The second-year center is trying to snap a three-game drought after putting together a franchise-record 18-game point streak during which he accumulated 17 goals and 16 assists.