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Miller's game plan is to work harder

The Buffalo Sabres aren't fretting over the recent play of goalie Ryan Miller.

Since the Olympic break, Miller has been riddled with alarming frequency. He was pulled Saturday for the first time this season after the Philadelphia Flyers hung five goals on him in two periods. He let in five goals the game before against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Sabres won both games, but they certainly need Miller to return to the form he displayed before the Olympics. Even though Martin Biron has won three straight games, including Sunday in relief, Miller is expected to be the starter at 7 tonight against the Washington Capitals in the Verizon Center.

"He skipped a beat, but we're going to get him back to where he's at," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said after Monday's practice in HSBC Arena.

"I had a conversation with him [Sunday] morning. The one thing he wants to do is work his way out of it. He feels that he's gotta get back his game, and he only knows one way of doing it, and that's by working even harder."

Miller is 23-8 with one overtime loss and one shootout loss. Perhaps the best goalie in the league without a shutout, he ranks eighth in the NHL in both goals-against average (2.45) and save percentage (.916).

He is 3-1 since returning from the Olympic break, but in those games he has a 3.66 GAA and an .873 save percentage.

"I've been getting scored on a little bit lately," Miller said. "I guess that's how it goes. It's hockey. It's going to bounce around a little bit. For the most part they've been decent goals. There's a few in there I don't think are tremendous, but not any that were too terrible."

Ruff was hesitant to make an issue of it but said he thought Miller has been "a little less aggressive" than he was before the Olympic break.

"The approach I had in Philly was the same as I always have," Miller said. "Maybe somewhere along the line I didn't execute the way I wanted to. I'm just going to go out and try to play the same way."

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The lone highlight for Washington has been the heart-pounding play of Alex Ovechkin. The 20-year-old winger leads all rookie scorers with 42 goals and 37 assists. He and Atlanta Thrashers sniper Ilya Kovalchuk are tied for second overall in goals, two behind New York Rangers star Jaromir Jagr.

What's more, Ovechkin can be an intimidating physical presence, as capable of delivering a smashing check as an eye-popping goal.

"He's tremendous," Ruff said. "I've watched highlight reel after highlight reel. He plays with incredible passion. He's a tremendous hitter when he wants to hit. He works extremely hard. He's got a bullet for a shot.

"If he isn't one of the best players in the league at his age or even in the game right now, I'd be hard-pressed to find a more exciting player."

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The Sabres don't have anyone among the top 60 scorers in the league, but they are tied for the second-highest number of 30-point players with 10. The Colorado Avalanche has one more. The Ottawa Senators have nine.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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