… Plus Montoya maintains patience and professionalism waiting in Islanders’ three-goalie system; Wild’s hot-hand Harding finally sitting for “No.1” Niklas Backstrom; and more in Nov. 8 InGoal Update
As a person it’s an enviable trait, one that has led him to perform great acts of charity and kindness through his Steadfast Foundation. As a goaltender it can go either way, serving him or hurting him.
Channeling the ups and downs has been part of his evolution from tears after bad games early in his career to mostly triumph as one of the NHL’s best stoppers. But the Buffalo Sabres’ star wasn’t holding much back when it came to his anger at being pulled early from one game and left on the bench the next two in favour of hot backup Jhonas Enroth.
It was the first time in five years that the struggling Miller has watched consecutive games from the bench.
“I want to be called upon,” Miller told a large gathering of reporters after practice Monday. “I’m working, getting myself ready to play. I don’t want things to get mixed up. I’m here to win. That’s the emotion you get from me. If I’m discouraged and if I’m (ticked) off, that’s just how it is. I want to win. I don’t want to be out there getting scored on. I don’t want to be pulled out of the game. I want to (expletive) win the game.”
Miller’s last win came on Oct. 20, part of a 4-1-0 start with a .950 save percentage. But he is 0-4 since with a .874, 0-4 on home ice this season, and hasn’t played since giving up three goals the first 6:23 of a loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the diminutive Enroth is already 4-0 this season after winning back-to-back games on the weekend and is now 13-2-2 going back to last year, with a 1.41 goals-against average and .952 save percentage this season.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wouldn’t say who would start against Winnipeg Tuesday, and liked that Miller had so much fire.
“He’s emotional about his game and that’s what you like,” Ruff told reporters, while also stressing the team’s desire to ease Miller’s considerable (over)load the last two seasons by getting Enroth at least 20 games, a task made easier by the Sabres’ league-high 21 back-to-back games this season. “I like him the way he is. He’s a competitive goaltender. … If you know Ryan, I don’t think he’s as fired up as he’s been in the past.”
That might change if he sits much longer.
“I pride myself on being able to get back in net, get back in the saddle,” Miller said. “If you have to wait about a week for that, it’s not ideal for me. But I’ll do my best when Lindy tells me it’s time to go. … My game’s not that far off. It’s a question of doing the little things and getting back to what makes me a successful goaltender. Sometimes the difference is very miniscule between winning and losing.”
Waiting part of Islanders’ three-goalie rotation too
Al Montoya looked good in winning two of his first three games for the New York Islanders, but heading into into Monday’s game against Boston, he hadn’t played since a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay way back on Oct. 27.
Evgeni Nabokov took over before getting hurt Oct. 27, then Rick Dipietro got three straight starts with Montoya, who is the only Islanders’ goalie not to get hurt this season, coming out of the press box to dress as his backup.
With Nabokov ready to return, Montoya was left in as the back up Monday.
“It’s about being professional,” Montoya told Newsday of his approach to the three-goalie rotation and coach Jack Capuano’s game-by-game approach. “I know I can win games for this team, it’s just a matter of doing my job and being ready. I imagine it’s a tough decision for the coaches. But my time will come.”
It did sooner than expected, as Nabokov was lifted after three first-period goals Monday to spark a sagging team. Montoya was brilliant at times in relief, especially while keeping it close in the second period, but gave up two goals 49 seconds apart in the third and finished with 22 saves on 24 shots. As for when he plays next, the numbers suggest he deserves to sooner rather than later: Montoya has a .928 save percentage; Nabokov dropped to .911 and Dipietro is at .904.
Wait ends for Wild’s Backstrom Tuesday
Josh Harding earned NHL Player of the Week honors for his incredible run in the Minnesota net, but he won’t get a fifth-straight start ahead of $6-million No.1 Niklas Backstrom Tuesday in Calgary, a place he has enjoyed a lot of success against fellow unflappable Finn Miikka Kiprusoff. The Wild knows it has to get Backstrom back on track with a five-game road trip coming up, but it’s also clear Harding has earned more time with a great start to the season.
Harding is 4-0-1, leads the NHL with a .965 save percentage and is second with a 1.18 goals-against average.
That potential was always there, but serious injuries kept the likeable lefty out of the lineup for almost all of the last two seasons, making his comeback and success an even better story this year. Still, even with Backstrom watching four in a row for the first time since December 2007, there is no goaltending controversy in Minnesota.
“We’re spending a lot of time talking about it like we have a goalie controversy or something right now,” coach Mike Yeo told the Star Tribune. “To me, it’s just a guy who’s earned an opportunity to go out and get the net again. … We can’t now just sit here and say, ‘OK, Let’s let Hards run with it now. I don’t want to just make [Backstrom] sit on the bench for two weeks here and then all of a sudden he hasn’t played a game and we expect him to be at his best.”