Ryan Miller's high ankle sprain cost him more than a month of key ice time last season and the Buffalo Sabres were just 4-7-2 when he was out. Sensing a playoff berth slipping away, Miller worked hard to accelerate his return, clearly pushing the process to try to save his team's fading playoff hopes.
Once the season ended, Miller spent much of the summer back home in East Lansing, Mich., finally getting the ankle back to 100 percent.
"It took a while to feel normal again," Miller admitted Saturday. "I'm glad I passed on [playing for Team USA in] the World Championships. It's kind of weird. For the longest time working with my trainer in East Lansing, it almost felt like my ankle felt dumb.
"It wasn't as coordinated as it used to be. We spent the majority of the summer putting that coordination back, getting the range of motion and balancing the strength between left and right leg. It was an interesting process but it feels good."
Until the injury, Miller was having the best season of his career. In the final analysis, he still posted career bests in goals-against average (2.53), save percentage (.918) and shutouts (5) while posting a 34-18-6 record. But if the injury had occurred in November rather than late February, might he have waited longer to return?
"I think I probably would not have pushed it so far," Miller said. "As far as coming back, I wanted to get back in the mix. Maybe if I had been hurt in November, I would have felt the same way, I don't know. But there was some urgency to it where I felt I wanted to be in net as soon as possible.
"What I was doing was finding a situation where I could tolerate it. Maybe if it's earlier you want to get more to the point where it's not something you're thinking about as much."
Miller was pleased with his own play last season but it was little consolation when his team again missed the playoffs. So he wants to continue to elevate his game even more as he enters his fifth full NHL season.
"I know I'm a good goalie already. Competitively, I want to keep pushing it up there so I'm an elite goalie," he said. "There's no question people talk about my game at the top of the league and I want to keep pushing that. Coming through frustrations and things that don't go your way are part of being that kind of a goaltender. Just another part of the journey. We'll see how it plays out."
Another part of Miller's journey is the likelihood he will team with Boston's Tim Thomas in goal for the U.S. Olympic squad in Vancouver. Miller got a good first test of the ankle when he attended Team USA's summer camp last month in Chicago.
An Olympic assignment -- and the accompanying compression of the NHL schedule to accommodate a three-week break -- really changes the dynamic for Miller's season. He's going to have to back off on practice and backup Patrick Lalime will need to play more games.
"My responsibility is to play the best I can for the Sabres, not to look forward to the Olympics knowing I have a two-week commitment to the U.S. team," he said. ". . . I'm just being smart and taking care of myself and worrying about the task at hand. That's to get on the ice [today], start to get the feel with the boys and start getting the rhythm of coming to the rink every day."