Ryan Miller was the talk of the Buffalo Sabres’ dressing room Sunday night. And he was the main topic down the hall in the Washington Capitals’ quarters as well.
The Caps had 50 shots on goal through regulation and overtime. Plus six shootout attempts. They got one measly goal.
NHL goal scoring leader Alex Ovechkin had a season-high 12 shots on goal plus a shootout attempt -- and came up empty in the Sabres’ 2-1 victory.
“I don’t think we want to do anything that differently,” Ovechkin said. “We had pretty good chances to score and Miller was outstanding. They got the victory and he deserved it.”
“He played fantastic,” said Caps coach Adam Oates, who noted his team had plenty of “Grade A” scoring chances against Miller. “Chances in the shootout to win it. We just needed one. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He was the man tonight.”
Ovechkin has gone three games without a goal for the first time this year despite collecting 24 shots on goal in that span. He had four on a first-period power play, including a couple of wicked one-timers that Miller corralled.
“Some of the shots were clear shots. That kind of goalie, he’s going to make a save,” Ovechkin said. “Sometimes when we had traffic in front of the net, we didn’t shoot the puck and we tried to make cute plays. It’s working sometimes. It wasn’t a bad game. It was a very good game.”
On balance, that was the feeling in the Caps’ dressing room. What more could they do?
Maybe a little traffic to bother Miller but he gave up few rebounds and was in great position all night. And he went 6 for 6 in the shootout too, with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both saying they were hoping to go 5-hole on Miller.
“Then as soon as he went down, I wanted to go low and under him,” said Ovechkin, who led all forwards in the game by playing 21 minutes, 40 seconds. “It’s somebody that it’s tough to score on. He played unbelievable tonight. He deserved to win.”
“We came in after the first period knowing we should have been up a goal or maybe two but Miller was playing so well,” said Troy Brouwer, who scored the only goal on Miller at 5:34 of the third period. “We feel like we deserved to win tonight but you encounter some games that just don’t go your way.”
Oates agreed with that point.
“Ovi had the most shots he’s had all year. Our power plays were good power plays,” Oates said. “It was Miller’s night. I can’t take anything away from the game he played, and I’m happy with the way our team played.”
If you’re looking ahead to the Sochi Olympics, Team USA and Russia will play their pool-play matchup on Feb. 15. There could be two more Miller-Ovechkin battles before that, Jan. 12 in Verizon Center and Jan. 28 at First Niagara Center.
A smiling Ovechkin wasn’t drawn into any Olympic talk.
“It’s going to be interesting,” he acknowledged. “But right now let’s just talk about tonight’s game.”
The Detroit Free Press reported Sunday that Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard will be named to the US team when the rosters are announced on Wednesday. Miller and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick are widely expected to be the top two American goalies.
The Sabres improved to 5-1 in shootouts, second in the NHL in winning percentage to Pittsburgh’s 3-0. The Caps lead the league in shootout wins but fell to 8-4. Strangely enough, Ovechkin’s miss left him just 2 for 11 in shootouts this season.
Buffalo shooters are 10 of 26 in the shootout and have gone just 1 for 9 in them the last two games. Miller has stopped 22 of 28 opponent chances.
He extended his NHL-record victory total in shootouts to 48 (going 48-28) and is 26-13 in them at home.
It was the second time this year the Caps had a 50-shot game and suffered a 2-1 shootout loss. Toronto goalie James Reimer pinned that similar trick on them Nov. 23 in Air Canada Centre.
The Caps’ closest chance in the shootout came on a spin-o-rama move by Mikhail Grabovski, who appeared to have some room to tuck the puck past Miller but hit the side of the post with it.
Said Miller: “Those moves get really close to stopping the puck. I’m not really sure how much I like them, but I’m just a goalie.”
The Sabres did not have a power play in the game for the first time this season and the first time at home since a 2-1 shootout win over Boston on Feb. 24, 2012.