If Ryan Miller is fortunate enough to face Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the Olympics, he’ll have a lot more backup than he had Wednesday. It’s not a fair fight when he’s wearing a Buffalo jersey instead of a USA Hockey sweater.
Crosby and Malkin scored dazzling, breakaway goals Wednesday night against Miller, leading Pittsburgh to a 5-1 victory over the Sabres. It was the goaltender’s last game in Buffalo before the Olympic break – and possibly his last with the Sabres if he’s dealt before Friday’s trade freeze – and he didn’t have much of a chance to stop the team’s free fall.
“Obviously, we gave up some chances where we kind of left him out to dry a little bit,” Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain said. “Olympics is only a couple days away for him, so obviously it was a big game for him, one of the last ones for him to kind of get a feel for the game before he heads out. It’s a tough game.”
For the first time this season, Miller was short on answers. It was understandable since his Olympic coach, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma, had a front-row seat as goals filled Miller’s net.
“Stuff happens out there, and you reset, learn from it and move on,” Miller said.
The goalie has worked hard the last few years on improving his mind-set. He doesn’t let slumps or setbacks weigh on him like they once did, but his flight to Sochi this weekend could be a long one.
Coupled with Saturday’s 7-1 loss in Colorado, in which he was pulled after 40 minutes, Miller has allowed 10 goals in two starts for his worst stretch of the season. It comes as he vies with Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick for America’s starting job.
“That had nothing to do with Ryan tonight,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “Our team, we need everyone. We had a couple guys no-show tonight. Playing one of the better teams in the league, you think they would be excited to play, and a couple weren’t.”
While Miller might be on his way out of town, Nolan is expecting more from the guys who are set to stay. Buffalo fell for the 10th time in 12 games.
“You find out about people through difficult times,” Nolan said. “When things are going OK, you camouflage certain traits. Things like this, you find out who really wants to compete and who doesn’t.
“These are two different teams out there. This is one of the premier teams in the league, and they’re running for a Stanley Cup. Ours is in the early stages of trying to re-establish something here. You re-establish with the right attitudes, and with things like this you find out who’s in for the long haul and who wants to battle through difficult times.
“That’s a good team. I give them that. But that doesn’t stop you from trying to compete against them.”
Buffalo’s Drew Stafford scored the opening goal in First Niagara Center, but Pittsburgh steadily and impressively took control as the Sabres’ slump stretched to 2-7-3.
Crosby, Miller’s nemesis on the Canadian Olympic team, turned the game in Pittsburgh’s direction early in the second. Crosby sent viewers scrambling for replays, dancing between Brian Flynn and Mike Weber near the blue line for a breakaway.
Crosby stared down Miller, then put a pinpoint laser over the goalie’s glove into the top corner to awe the announced crowd of 18,408.
Malkin, a Russian Olympian, also beat Miller with a second-period breakaway. He picked up a loose puck at center ice, slipped around McBain then fought off the defenseman’s hook. Malkin deked right, went left and easily deposited the goal to make it 3-1.
The Sabres merely watched as the rest of the game unfolded.
“They got loose a few times and I didn’t set it up very well,” Miller said. “I got a lefty coming down across the center of the ice in Malkin, and he went the other way. I can’t give him room to come back. I missed two chip checks on the first and third goal, and they score on them. I don’t get all of it, that’s how it goes. In-tight plays I’ve got to disrupt that.
“They spent some time in our zone, and that was kind of the difference.”