TORONTO – Nights like Tuesday are acceptable now. Former Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller wasn’t dynamic in the St. Louis Blues’ 5-3 victory against the Maple Leafs. He looked average, even a bit shaky at times while making only 22 saves.
But Miller doesn’t have to be perfect these days. The 33-year-old’s tending goal for the NHL’s best team, not its worst.
Miller is 8-2-1 since the blockbuster Feb. 28 deal sent the franchise goalie and captain Steve Ott to the powerhouse Blues. He’s facing only 23.8 shots a game in St. Louis, down from the 35.3 he saw each contest with Buffalo.
“You just try to fit in,” Miller said following the game inside the Air Canada Centre. “You’re part of a good team. They work hard. They do the right things. They work for each other. They got a lot of talent. It’s just slotting in and seeing where we can go.”
Of course, the Blues, who have an NHL-high 49 wins and 105 points, are gunning for the Stanley Cup. The team possesses a “swagger and confidence” Miller hasn’t experienced in years.
“There was tough years there in Buffalo for him,” said former Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold, a Blues regular. “To finally get out of that whole spectacle that’s been going on the past few years is probably a breath of fresh air for him. Let him play his game and let him relax.”
Going from worst to first has been “an adjustment,” Miller said.
“You’re brought into potentially someone else’s party,” he said. “You got to learn how to fit in and you got to definitely have the attitude where you’re on a team that expects to win.”
Friendships have helped Miller acclimate quickly. Besides Leopold and Ott, former Sabres center Derek Roy is a Blues regular. Miller played with David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk on the recent U.S. Olympic entry.
“I’m trying to just get the rhythm of what everyone does around the rink,” Miller said. “So it’s different. You come to a new rink and there’s different routines and there’s different meeting times and there’s all these little things that go into practice day or game day.”
It’s very different on the ice, where Miller’s adjusting to a new system.
“I got to learn how to make my reads just a little bit different,” Miller said.
The Sabres allow their goalie to take the shot and play everything away from the puck, St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. He has his Blues block the shot and clog the lane.
Hitchcock estimated Miller had grasped 60-70 of the new system. Believe it or not, Miller’s save percentage is 10 points lower (.913) with the Blues. He’s allowed 10 goals in his last three games.
“I had a fast start,” Miller said. “I’m just trying to work my way back into a little more of a rhythm now.”
The one constant is “they still need saves,” Miller said. He knows no one wants to hear a goalie complain about facing fewer shots.
“They’re probably just going to roll their eyes and not going to want to hear it,” he said. “You just try to fit in with the team. You try to find your role and do your job.”
His old team has endured more turmoil in the month since the trade. Pat LaFontaine resigned as the Sabres’ president of hockey operations the day after he left.
The sudden exit “kind of shocked” Miller, who said he noticed as the trade deadline approached he hadn’t seen LaFontaine.
“I don’t know the inner workings of what was going on,” Miller said.
Still, interim Sabres coach Ted Nolan, a LaFontaine hire, is expected to sign a contract extension soon.
“To go that long away from the NHL and be a high-level coach, I’m glad he got an opportunity,” Miller said. “He is a good coach. He cares about the players. I think he recognizes some of the buttons he needs to push.”
Nolan told reporters Wednesday in Nashville winger Torrey Mitchell and defenseman Tyler Myers, who crashed into the net Tuesday, are questionable for tonight’s game against the Predators. Mitchell’s injury is more serious, he said.
The Sabres could make a couple of recalls. Center Zenon Konopka is still out.
UPDATE: The Sabres have recalled rookies Johan Larsson and Rasmus Ristolainen on an emergency basis.
Nolan said goalie Michal Neuvirth (lower body) has returned to Buffalo.
Goalie Matt Hackett, who has a 1.51 goals-against average and .958 save percentage in two games, will make his second straight start tonight.