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InGoal Update: More injury setbacks for Hiller and Miller

InGoal Update: More injury setbacks for Hiller and Miller

… Sabres and Ducks both left relying on hot backups down stretch. Plus: One Mason hurt, another making highlight reels; another look at Quick’s supernatural save, and more in the April 1 update

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller

Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller is questionable with an unidentified upper body injury that may be the result of a high shot. (Scott Slingsby photo)

Buffalo standout Ryan Miller was a surprise scratch when his Sabres played a crucial late-season game with significant playoff implications Wednesday against the New York Rangers, and wasn’t on the ice for practice Friday, leaving doubts about his health heading into the weekend with the season on the line.

According to the Associated Press, Miller is “day-to-day” with an upper body injury, and after initial reports to the contrary did not join the seventh-place Sabres for a weekend trip to Washington Saturday and Carolina Sunday, a game that could be for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (the Hurricanes were three points back on Friday).

Coach Lindy Ruff told The Buffalo News Saturday morning Miller stayed behind because he simply wasn’t ready to practice:

“Just the fact it turned out he wasn’t going to practice today, so we just felt we wouldn’t bring him along,” Ruff said, adding Miller could still join the team by Sunday. “He’s still moving forward. Actually, he’s doing well.”

Miller has not been seen since a 4-3 loss in Toronto on Tuesday, which included taking a high shot from Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (video below) early in the third period. That has led to speculation Miller was concussed, and General Manager Darcy Regier’s refusal to answer questions about whether Miller has been tested for a concussion only added fuel to the fire, especially since the Sabres boss did admit Phaneuf’s high blast played a role:

The replay seems to show Miller taking the high, hard one more off the shoulder (Rangers backup Martin Biron broke his collar bone on a similar practice shot) and the absence may have nothing to do with his noggin. Then again, as any goalie who been hit by a rising shot off the lower chin portion of their mask knows, those can feel like a punch in the mouth and often have the worst effect. And Miller was also struck in the mask by a blast from hard-shooting forward Brian Rolston in a 2-0 win over New Jersey Saturday.

Whatever the reason, Buffalo insists Miller won’t be out long, according to the Associated Press:

“That’s the positive thing that we’re not looking at anything long term here,” Ruff said.

Still, the Sabres may have to leave their playoff hopes in the hands of raw rookie Jhonas Enroth for at least one more game.

Buffalo Sabres Goalie Jhonas Enroth

Jhonas Enroth hasn't been bothered by bouncing back and forth between the NHL and AHL earlier this season. (Scott Slingsby photo)

The 22-year-old Swede hasn’t been phased so far. Despite going 17 days between starts, and facing boyhood idol Henrik Lundqvist on Wednesday, Enroth made 23 saves to lead the Sabres to a crucial win in a tight 1-0 game against the Rangers.

“I couldn’t ask for better timing,” Enroth told reporters after the shootout win. “My parents [Erik and Eva] are actually here [from Sweden] watching their first game over here, so it was a lot of fun and a very special night for me.”

Third-stringer Patrick Lalime took over Miller’s stall in the dressing room, but its Enroth’s net if Miller can’t play.

The 5-foot-10 stopper is now 6-2-1 with a .915 save percentage after becoming the first NHL goalie to post his first three wins in a shootout, all while being airlifted in from the AHL for spot starts to give Miller complete days off after the Sabres lost all faith in regular backup Patrick Lalime, who hasn’t won in over a year and is 9-26-5 in three seasons behind Miller.

The Buffalo News takes a good look at the diminutive Enroth, who was the Sabres second-round pick in 2006, and announced (prematurely, he admits now) after signing in 2008 that he would challenge Miller for the starting job. The News also breaks down the recent failings of Sabres backups behind Miller.

That’s something the Sabres can no longer afford the rest of this season.

Hiller’s head situation more serious after recurring vertigo symptoms

Anaheim Ducks Goalie Jonas Hiller

Anaheim Ducks Goalie Jonas Hiller's return was short lived after recurring vertigo symptoms. (Photo by Scott Slingsby)

After the Ducks originally blamed rust for Jonas Hiller struggling in his return to game action earlier this week, Anaheim’s would-be No.1 goalie admitted to the Orange County Register that he did in fact experience a return of the vertigo symptoms that had kept him out of action for more than six weeks:

“It’s something that’s still up and down. Some days are better, some days are not so good. I guess it’s just going to take its time. I still found out that I’m not quite where I wanted to be. All I can do is give myself time. Do my exercise. Do my stuff. Hopefully it’s going to get better. I kind of like stopped setting myself a timeline or anything because nobody can really tell me how long it’s going to take.”

Hiller was pulled after three goals on nine shots just 11:37 into the contest, and admitted he struggled to track the puck:

“I kind of had to try it at some point,” Hiller told The Register. “I don’t think they were bad goals or whatever in Nashville. But still I felt like in [that] situation, unpredicatable situations like tips or bounces off the boards or off the net like what happened in Nashville, it just seems I’m a little behind. I’m just always a second late. At that high level, it’s just not good enough if you’re a second late on that kind of stuff. … I can’t make myself see the puck if I don’t feel comfortable.”

All of which leaves the sizzling Ducks in the so-far more-than-capable hands of Ray Emery.

All Emery does is keep winning. All six he’s started in the NHL have ended up in victory. Add in his AHL stint and he’s 10-1 this season. But there is a much bigger story at play here, one that is widely known among hardcore hockey fans, but has been lost outside the sport.

As Orange County Register columnist Jeff Miller wrote, it has even been lost inside the Ducks locker room, where teammate Bobby Ryan basically said his knowledge was limited to Emery being out a year, having surgery and coming back. Which is a shame because the extent of that surgery, which took place one year ago Friday and should have ended Emery’s career, is a big part of what makes the goalie’s comeback so compelling. It’s a story that has inspired Bo Jackson, the kind, Miller argues, is the “greatest in all of sports,” and one that should transcend the sport and be told in households everywhere.

Yet in his own locker room, players don’t know what Emery has been through. In layman’s terms, he had a piece of his fibula, the bone that runs behind and parallel to your shin, cut out and pinned back in up near his hip in order to halt the disease – avascular necrosis – that was causing the joint to disintegrate. After a month in bed and another five on crutches, coming back from that to walk is a success. Coming back to lead an NHL team on a late season playoff run?

“It is somewhat of a, I don’t know if you want to say miracle, but it’s something that’s never happened before,” Coach Randy Carlyle told Miller in The Register story. “It’s a great story and one the individual should be recognized for because it’s something no other athlete has done.”

One-timers from around the Goaltending World (Wide Web):

~ Chris Mason was lost behind the mid-season success of Ondrej Pavelec in Atlanta but has quietly gone 4-1-0 the last three weeks as the Thrashers cling to slim playoff hopes, including this highlight reel save to help Atlanta beat east-leading Philadelphia with a 43-save, 1-0 shutout on Thursday:

~ Columbus called up goalie David LeNeveu on an emergency basis for Friday’s game against Chicago after No.1 Steve Mason suffered an unidentified lower-body injury in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to Washington. But LeNeveu, who has played 21 NHL and 272 AHL games since being drafted 46th overall in 2002 by Phoenix (and last season in Austria before signing with the Blue Jackets), isn’t expected to add to that total against the Blackhawks, with backup Mathieu Garon expected to start on Friday.

~ Jonathan Quick’s “magic puck” save earlier this week has already been featured here at InGoal (and just about everywhere else, but Quick’s recount of the supernatural stop, in which the puck appears to take a mystical right turn just before crossing the goal line, gives us another excuse to highlight it again (video below). But first another look a the stop off Jarome Iginla’s one-timer:

And now, Quick’s recollection to Canucks beat reporter Ian Walker of the Vancouver Sun:

“It’s no secret that I have mind control,” deadpanned Quick. “No, the ice at Staples is pretty soft and I’ve caught a few bounces the other way that have gone against me so it was about time. I got a piece of it with my blocker, put some backspin on it and it just hit the ice and took a bounce in the right direction for me. That’s all it was. I remember after it hit my blocker I was sure it was going in the net and when I turned around and saw it going out the other end I was super relieved. We ended up winning in a shootout so that would have made a big difference in the game.”

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.