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What Kind Of Millercles Will #30 Perform For Us Next?

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In 2009/2010, Ryan Miller set career marks in save percentage, goals against average, and wins. He won an Olympic silver medal in Vancouver, was named the tournament MVP and best goalie, and established the new USA Hockey record in goals allowed. He made saves he had no business making, and that we were not worthy of. He capped it all off with his first ever Vezina nomination and victory. So what’s next for the man between the pipes at One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza?

It’s hard to speculate about what Ryan Miller might be able to do this upcoming season. He’s in his prime, is playing behind a more responsible team (Toni Lydman and Hank Tallinder had giveaway/takeaway ratios last season that were 1/2 and 2/3 worse than Shaone Morrisonn and Jordan Leopold, respectively), and his defensive corps are primed to help his game. Craig Rivet and Morrisonn are apt crease police, while Tyler Myers likes to play defense by speeding the puck away from his goalie.

It’s going to be damned hard to replicate what Miller accomplished last season. He had the second-best save percentage and goals against average in the league, was fourth in wins, seventh in shutouts, was fourth in shots faced, and had the best SV% and GAA on the penalty kill.

69GP 41W 18L 8OTL 2.22GAA .929SV% 5SO

Miller just turned 30 in July, spending his summer in the prime of his career recharging in Southern California. A number of factors leading into this new campaign actually lend themselves to the strong possibility that he may actually surpass his personal best statistics coming up.

First is the absence of an Olympic distraction from Miller’s famously-tuned mind. The zen-like state he goes into during games (save his outburst against Matt Stajan) is the key to his success and not having to deal with an extra tournament will mean he can focus 100% on bringing victory to the Sabres.

Second is an upgrade (on paper, at least) at defense. Myers is a season wiser and spent the summer bulking up, Rivet will finally be healthy again following the surgery to repair his double torn labrum, Morrisonn and Leopold play a much smarter game than departed veterans Lydman and Tallinder, Steve Montador returns after a surprisingly-successful first go-round in Buffalo, and Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera, and Mike Weber will all be showing their best in an effort to earn permanent spots on the roster.

There is one matter that may prey on Miller’s workhorse mentality: back-to-back sets. The Sabres deal with 22 sets of back-to-back games in 10/11, most in the NHL. Given the skaters’ proclivity for not showing up in front of Patrick Lalime, Lalime’s inability to perform well on cold starts, and Lindy Ruff’s penchant for not rotating his goalies, the back-to-back sets (more than half of the Sabres’ regular season schedule) may very well take their toll on Miller.

Unlike my previous preview posts, I won’t be predicting what the man in the mask will do this season. Goalies are a fickle and unpredictable lot, but thankfully for Sabres fans, Ryan Miller has been consistent in his constant improvement. Should 2010 follow suit, he very well may reach the next level in his play and lead the Sabres as they try to make it farther than they’ve ever made it before.

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