Ryan Miller wanted to take over as the dressing room leader of the Buffalo Sabres. Though he's still young at 27, he's an established veteran. His teammates look to him for guidance on the ice and off it.
But the NHL has a rule that goalies cannot be captain. Through the first month of the season, Miller found out why. It's hard enough to stop a 90-mph shot. Doing it while constantly worrying about your teammates is near impossible.
"I'm trying to focus more on my game," Miller said. "Early in the season, I was probably too worried about what everybody else was trying to do, trying to be bigger than my role. I was trying to do too many things at once. I can't be a captain-type leader and talk to guys at all times. I have to go out and just do my job."
He's been stellar at his job since Nov. 5. In those eight games, Miller had a save percentage of .932 (206 saves on 221 shots), turning around a season that was mediocre at best. Miller's save percentage was .891 before the hot streak, and it's risen to .909.
He rested Saturday night when the Sabres visited Montreal, giving way to Jocelyn Thibault for the first time since Nov. 2.
"Ryan has done an excellent job," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "First and foremost, the team has done an excellent job at even strength, but he has made some big saves when we've fallen down and needed to be picked up. He looks more at ease. He's around the paint and not going very far. He's making some saves look easy, which tells you he's pretty close to being on his game again."
Not coincidentally, Miller's run of excellence began when the Sabres started their run within the Northeast Division. The night-after-night meetings with his closest rivals forced Miller to increase his awareness.
"I think the biggest thing is we're all very competitive right now," he said. "I'm starting to feel a lot more competitive, a lot more intense on the ice. It's sparked by some of these rivalries."
The goaltender is still the Sabres' conscience, despite his need to adopt a lesser leadership role. And as long his play continues to talk loudly, it doesn't matter if Miller does.
"What you've probably seen the last eight games is me being better at just doing my job, letting guys sort things out," Miller said. "If we need to talk about something that involves me, I speak up. If I find a moment to say anything, I take it. But I'm not going to go out of my way. Maybe I was early in the year.
"I'll just worry about my plate, what I'm eating, and not what everyone else is having. It's definitely helping me out."
Two of the Sabres' injured players -- Adam Mair and Drew Stafford -- are on the trip that continues Monday in Washington. While Mair is just continuing to rehab his ankle sprain, Stafford is hoping his strained shoulder will heal in time for the game against the Capitals.
"There is a chance if I'm good," Stafford said Saturday night. "It's getting better. We'll just wait to see when it gets better, and then I'll be playing. It's still day-by-day on how it feels."
Stafford was hurt during the third period of Wednesday's victory over Ottawa. He got tangled with a Senators player in front of the Ottawa bench and tried to push him away.
"It wasn't too obvious or anything," Stafford said. "It was just a little thing that happened, and it slipped out of there."
Sabres winger Andrew Peters entered Saturday as the least-utilized player in the league, but he got a workout Saturday.
Peters played a season-high 6:33 against the Canadiens. He had topped three minutes just twice prior to Saturday's game.
Entering Saturday, Peters ranked 699th out of 702 players in average ice time per game, and the three players below him have been sent to the minors.
In his first 13 games, Peters played just 2:23 a night. The only players who'd averaged less ice time were Ottawa rookie Joshua Hennessy (1:53), Edmonton's Bryan Young (2:08) and Florida's Stefan Meyer (2:13).
The league leader in ice time is Anaheim's Francois Beauchemin, who averages 29:04. Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell is 12th at 25:11.
The area behind the Buffalo net in the Bell Centre has been trouble when the Sabres visit this season. In their first trip Oct. 20, hard caroms off the backboards contributed to a 4-2 loss. On Saturday, two glass panes cracked and workers scrambled to replace them following the pregame skate. It caused just a minor delay.