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Goalie-to-go looks like Noronen Miller, Biron appear to have edge in net

Mika Noronen still hasn't pulled the trigger on buying a house in Western New York.

Good thing, that.

The Buffalo Sabres goaltender appears to be the odd man out based on coach Lindy Ruff's announcement Ryan Miller will be the starter and Martin Biron the backup for their preseason finale against the Minnesota Wild at 7:30 tonight in Rochester (Radio 550).

"Right now it looks like he wants either Millsie or Marty to be the starter," Noronen said after Thursday's practice in HSBC Arena. "I don't know what's going on. I didn't think it was going to be like this, but it is."

Ruff and General Manager Darcy Regier said the club conceivably could carry three goalies into the regular season, which begins Wednesday night against the New York Islanders in HSBC Arena.

But that would force management to whack another position player in finalizing the 23-man roster -- and those choices will be difficult enough as it is.

"At some point there will be a trade," Regier said without naming the likely bag-packer. "I don't have an exact date. That's why we use the time heading into the opener."

Noronen conceded he would be the easiest to trade. He is only 26 years old, and his $665,000 salary is the lowest of Buffalo's goalies.

"I'm cheap for these guys, and I'm cheap for the new team, too," Noronen said. "I don't know what's going to happen or when, but hopefully something's going to happen and it happens before the season starts."

Noronen laughed when asked how sick he had become of the situation. The Hockey News twice named him its top minor-league prospect, but for four years he has tried unsuccessfully to win over Sabres brass, knowing his chances would run out once Miller matured.

"It's been the same question all the time," Noronen said. "I think now is the latest time to do something.

"I didn't think it was going to be this hard. It's been a long way. I'm 26 years old. I still have time do something, but I was really hoping I would have done more by now."

The decision to go with Miller tonight means he will have started four preseason games. Biron has started three times and Noronen only once. Noronen allowed six goals at Minnesota 10 days ago and hasn't played since.

"Goaltending is a sensitive issue, but every team needs the strongest guy to be playing," Ruff said.

Ruff said he slanted the workload toward Miller and Biron because he had questions about them. Miller was coming off a spectacular campaign for the Rochester Americans, and Ruff wanted to see how his game translated to the NHL. Biron, meanwhile, was the only one of the three who didn't play during the lockout.

"I really don't think (Noronen) got a fair assessment from my part," Ruff said, "but I didn't want to spread the assessment so thin that I wouldn't be able to assess where Ryan was at or where Marty was at after the year off.

"You're going on your gut. I didn't want to be thinking 'Boy, I wish I would have had him play one more game.' It probably ends up not being fair for one guy."

Miller in the preseason is 3-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage. Biron is 2-1 with a 2.62 GAA and an .896 save percentage.

Further suggesting Noronen will be the odd goalie out, Regier dismissed the notion of playing anyone for the purposes of showcasing him for other interested teams. Regier said it would be wasteful, especially for a team anxious to make a fast start.

"Showcasing's greatly overrated," Regier said. "It really is about preparing our team and our own players and adjusting to these new rules. It's about winning games, and we've not given any consideration to the concept of showcasing."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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