Tonight our beloved Chicago Blackhawks will be skating in Patrick Kane’s old stomping ground of Buffalo, NYto take on the Sabres.While the Sabres are currently the worst team in the NHL, they’ve recently made headlines by trading the face of their franchise, Ryan Miller, as well as Steve Ott to the Blackhawks ever-developing division rival the St. Louis Blues for Chris Stewart and William Carrier and two draft picks. This following a 2012-2013 where the Buffalo dealt Jordan Leopold, T.J. Brennan and Robyn Regehr in exchange for draft picks as well.
So knock on wood, tonight should be an easy two points for the Hawks given the Sabres have pretty much folded their hand this season and are more or less waiting for a new deal in the draft in the offseason to use all of the picks they’ve been accumulating the past two years.
Therefore, I felt it appropriate to delve into a more critical look into the recent “thorn” Buffalo has thrown into the Hawks side by dealing Miller to the Blues. Amidst all the hoopla of this transaction, many of us have forgotten that the Hawks have beaten Miller before this season when the Sabres visited the Madhouse on Madison during the first month of the season. True to his hype, Miller made an incredible 40 saves, but yielded two goals that ended up being the difference, and the Hawks won 2-1.
There are certainly many takeaways from this game’s outcome. The good news is the Hawks have figured out how to beat Ryan Miller, but the bad news is it took over 40 shots on goal to accomplish this, and that was without a team as talented as the St. Louis Blues in front of him.
Thus far since his arrival in St. Louis, Miller is 4-0. However with the exception of the Colorado Avalanche, Miller hasn’t faced a team that is offensively ranked within the top ten of the NHL. In his first four games in St. Louis, he’s also not faced more than 27 shots (which was put up by the Avs, fittingly enough), and FYI, the Hawks put up an average of 33.47 shots a game this season. So Miller’s not exactly a proven quantity just yet as a Blue.
This brings me to my next point. An often overlooked aspect of the Miller trade is the differences between the Blues and the Sabres from a defensive standpoint. Miller is coming from a Sabres team that on average allows 34.65 shots on goal a game (2nd worst in the NHL), to a Blues team that only allows an average of 26.37 shots on goal (2nd best in the NHL). This obvious contrast in the caliber of the team in front of him may seem to bode well for Miller, but this may in fact be a disadvantage that he’s never encountered during his long career in Buffalo.
We all know to be a goaltender you have to be tough physically, but more importantly mentally. (PS – If you ever want to get a really good insight on what it takes to become a successful goalie, I recommend this article from The Atlantic detailing the life of Finnish goalie guru Urpo Ylönen: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/the-puck-stops-here/357579/). That being said Miller’s change in home ice also requires him to make a change in mindset.
Former Hawks goalie and 2010 Stanley Cup champion Antti Raanta once remarked that the most difficult thing about playing for the Blackhawks is maintaining the right state of mind because they are such a puck possession and defensively-minded team. Think about this for a moment. To be a successful goalie you need to successfully track a small rubber disk traveling on average of 80 mph and do this at the drop of a hat. Therefore, if you’re a goalie with a bad defensive team in front of you giving up a large amount of shots on goal, like Miller in Buffalo, it’s easier to maintain the necessary mindset to make saves. One of the reasons Miller was so good in the 2010 Olympics gold medal game was because he was able to “stay in the zone” for so long as he faced 45 shots on goal from Team Canada.
However maintaining the proper mental discipline as a goalie becomes significantly tougher if your environment becomes less constant from a shots on goal perspective. Pulling off a great save is tough enough as it is, but it’s immensely more difficult after several minutes of inactivity; the mental of equivalent of doing a standing backflip with only a second’s notice.
Yet this is the environment Ryan Miller is now in, and it’s quite unlike anything he’s encountered in his career. Like the Blackhawks, the Blues are a good defensive and puck possession team, so Miller will need to expand his mental capabilities to succeed in St. Louis. PS – so far as a Blue Miller’s given up the first goal in two out of four games.
So what does this mean? It means Miller is mortal after all. And after being the franchise fixture in Buffalo, Miller will either be the franchise savior or franchise bane in St. Louis (more mental pressure anyone?).
For tonight though, the Blackhawks need to focus on getting the much need two points against Miller’s former team, and focus on giving the former Buffalo Sabres net-minder a rude awakening later this month.
FOR THE DAGGER!