February 14, 2011
Anyone that covered the Buffalo Sabres goalie in the Winter Games a year ago can recall how he went from unexpectedly gregarious during every media moment of the tournament to terse and standoffish after losing the Gold Medal game to Canada. No one took him to task, probably because we understood the emotions in losing the gold in overtime, and because he wasn't Russian; but there was a definite transformation in attitude, albeit for that moment.
Last night's 7-6 loss against the New York Islanders, Miller gave up seven goals on 26 shots. The last time he surrendered seven goals to an opponent was Nov. 9, 2008, against the Boston Bruins. It was the fourth time in the past six games Buffalo had allowed at five goals or more. The talk was more about defensive lapses than Miller's porous performance.
Not so last night. Coach Lindy Ruff opted not to pull Miller, then said after the game that, "It's no secret, Miller had a tough night."
But the scrutiny, and Miller's frustration, manifested themselves in a contentious back-and-forth with local reporters after the loss to the Islanders.
WGR 550 in Buffalo had a transcript of Miller's postgame comments (stick-tap Dave Davis), in which he squared off against Buffalo News scribes John Vogl and Jerry Sullivan. (And reading it, you can see why his level of annoyance grew with vague, leading questions hitting him like pin pricks.)
After the Sabres' media relations staff tried to end the scrum, the action picked up again:
Miller: No, I'll hang in here and see where they're going with this one.
Vogl: Are you more mad at the loss or more mad that you have to talk?
Miller: I'm just frustrated, I don't get that one. Ask about the game.
Vogl: That was about the game
Miller: I don't know what you're going with here John. I have no idea, I really
Miller then walked away and Vogl stopped him to I guess try to explain himself or to get an explanation on why Miller was mad at him. Miller then accused him of writing his stories by the second period and inserting quotes afterwards. Miller told him don't try to deny it, I've watched you work when I've been hurt.
Sully then went barreling back in and when Miller told him to let Vogl speak for himself and he questioned why Sully was here when he's never around. This I remember specifically, Sully said, "I'm sorry I wasn't here to talk to you after any of the other 14 games this season which you allowed four or more goals." Jerry also told him he's thinned skinned and the both said the "F" word to each other in front of many kids maybe 8-12 years old touring the room.
Oh dear, what about the children and their virgin ears! Here's the full audio of Miller's interview.
What I'm implying, I suppose, is that this was quite possibly the worst loss of Miller's NHL career. It was also the low point of a season that has seen Miller go from Vezina Trophy winner and Olympic hero to a run-of-the-mill netminder.
But it also put some of the blame on the Sabres for Miller being overworked:
But we're not supposed to ask if he feels OK on a day when he couldn't save a stamp? The standard is high, maybe too high, but that's what happens when you've been anointed, however briefly, as the best goalie in the world. Expectations soar. Questions are asked.
Lindy Ruff said he probably should have pulled Miller after the third or fourth goal. But Ruff said he has seen his team rally around Miller before on an off night. Ruff can usually find a way to talk himself out of using backup Patrick Lalime(notes), who hasn't started a game since November or won a game since last March.
The pertinent question is, why not sit Miller on occasion? Maybe the burden of playing every game is beginning to wear on him mentally. Doesn't the organization have some responsibility to employ a backup the coach isn't afraid to play?
The Sabres have played 54 games and Miller has started 45 of them. Across the board, his stats are down from last season, although he's on pace to match his shutout total (five). Meanwhile, despite changes on the Buffalo blueline, he's facing around around the same number of shots per minute of play (0.51) as he did last season (0.52).
For the Sabres fans in the readership: Is it still "as Miller goes, so go the Sabres?" Or are they doing what was unheard of last season, which is winning despite him?