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Sabres goalies keep smiling Miller, Lalime have been on roll

DENVER -- Ryan Miller knows it's coming. One day, he'll be sitting in an NHL arena, and the scoreboard will start showing those wild and wacky plays that get the crowd guffawing. Miller will look up and see . . . himself.

The Buffalo Sabres goaltender had one of those head-shaking, eye-rolling, laughter-generating moments Thursday against Minnesota. He tried to dump the puck behind his net, but instead he shot it right into it.

"I figured if I played long enough I'd make the blooper reel," he said.

And with that, it finally happened. It was the first time this sea
son a Sabres netminder actually wanted a do-over. For a team that last season too often heard, "I'd like to have that one back," it shows how much the play of the goaltenders has improved.

The Sabres head into tonight's meeting with the Colorado Avalanche allowing just 1.71 goals per game (excluding shootouts). The team defense certainly has been better, but the goaltending position has been remarkably superior with Miller and new cohort Patrick Lalime.

"A lot of what I've been able to do is reflect on what the team is focusing on," Miller said. "It's a situation where we want to be better on defense, we want to be accountable, and we want to make it easy on the goaltenders to play. Patty and I can read plays, we can sit back in our net, and we don't get caught out of position too often. It's a lot easier for goalies to play that way.

"Even when you're going to face a lot of shots, a lot of them come from the perimeter, and you've just got to be in good position. When you do have to make that read, you have confidence that other stuff is going to get covered. We kind of draw on the other boys playing good hockey."

Make no mistake, the Sabres are drawing off the goaltenders, too. Miller is 5-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Lalime is 1-0-1 with a 1.44 and .951. Those are numbers that make players comfortable with their crease situation.

"Those big saves give the team confidence, give you momentum, picks the bench up," coach Lindy Ruff said.

Goaltending was the Sabres' vital component this year. Miller was a one-man workhorse last season and wore down after Ruff lost faith in Jocelyn Thibault. But the stellar starts by the new combination have Buffalo enjoying a 6-0-1 record.

"We've got two great goaltenders, and they're both great guys, and they get along great. What more could you ask for?" Ruff said. "It's healthy competition."

The netminders are feeding off each other. Lalime sees Miller make 25 saves and follows with 35. Miller has little choice but to respond with a pair of 30-save performances.

"Every time you get a chance to be out there, you want to be part of this," said Lalime, who is likely to start tonight against the Avs. "I really enjoy it now, and I think that's what you're looking for. "

The goalies have built an early rapport, which was vital considering they are scheduled to be together awhile. Lalime signed a two-year deal this summer, a change of policy for Buffalo backups. Thibault was in town for one season, and Ty Conklin shared a stall for only a couple of months.

"I like that situation, where you get to know somebody and get to work with them," Miller said. "He's already proving his worth, and I think it's a good choice by our management.

"Every day he's come to the rink so far he's had a smile on his face. That really helps some days when you're tired.."

It's worlds away from the "I should have had that one" mentality that visited often last year. It made a brief reappearance Thursday, and Miller is glad it was shown a quick exit.

"That was a good mental test for me, to do something stupid and have to stick with it," Miller said. "I guess I'm happy about that part, but pretty embarrassed."

Just wait till he sees it on the Jumbotron someday. But until then, there's no reason to be embarrassed about the Sabres' record or their goaltending.


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