EDMONTON, Alberta – The Buffalo Sabres were to fly to Vancouver immediately after Thursday’s game after the Edmonton Oilers, and they will see a very familiar face in goal Friday night against the Canucks in Rogers Arena.
Ryan Miller, the franchise’s all-time victory leader, is expected to make his first career start against Buffalo in Friday’s game.
“I won’t lie. I think I’ll probably have a little bit of a weird feeling,” Miller told The Buffalo News by phone Thursday afternoon. “I spent such a long time in that jersey, I’ll try not to pass the puck to anybody with a Sabres sword on their chest.”
Miller was traded from Buffalo to St. Louis last February and then signed a three-year, $18 million contract with Vancouver when free agency opened in July. Miller did not play against Buffalo while in St. Louis last year as the Blues were in the thick of the playoff race and Miller did not want to cause any undue distraction to his new team’s goaltender rotation he was sharing with Brian Elliott, who beat Buffalo in an April visit to Scottrade Center.
Miller is 23-11-1 for Vancouver this year with 2.33 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He is second in the NHL with five shutouts, one off his career high of six set with the Sabres in 2011-12. He won 284 games with Buffalo from 2002-2014.
“This is a game I’ll just try to have some fun with,” Miller said. “I’ll see a lot of people who meant a lot to me over the years, from the training staff and support staff and the guys I played with for a while. I care about these guys a lot. It will be nice to have a chance to meet them.”
Miller said he had been following the Sabres’ epic 12-game losing streak entering his former team’s visit to Edmonton.
“No matter what people want to say, these guys do prepare,” he said. “They want to work hard and go out there and compete hard. It’s not clicking and sometimes it’s a question of guys developing into their roles. It’s a tough league and you do feel for them.”
The Canucks visit Buffalo Feb. 26 and Miller said a return to the city he played in since 2002 has definitely been circled on his calendar.
“It’s the kind of game where you have to just take a second and appreciate it for what it is. I’m looking forward to coming back,” Miller said.
Another familiar face from the Sabres’ back-to-back Eastern Conference finalists of 2006 and 2007 was on the ice against them here Thursday. And if Buffalo lands phenom Connor McDavid in the June draft, Derek Roy might prove to be the most valuable player of the whole process.
The Edmonton Oilers entered play Thursday 5-5-2 in the 12 games since Roy joined them in a trade from Nashville. Without Roy, Edmonton was 7-22-7 and was 10 points behind the Sabres.
“I saw that MVP thing on the Internet,” a laughing Roy said before the game. “I”m just here to do my job, help the younger guys, score goals, make plays, get some wins on the board. So far it’s been pretty good.”
Roy entered Thursday with three goals, five assists and a plus-1 rating with the Oilers. He had one goal and nine assists with 26 games for Nashville before the Predators waived him. After clearing waivers, Roy was on a flight to Milwaukee to join Nashville’s AHL team when he got a call to deplane in Chicago because a trade to Edmonton had been worked out.
“I was excited to hear about Edmonton. It was a fresh start,” Roy said.
“He’s been good. He’s a smart player who can make plays,” said Edmonton coach Todd Nelson. “I like the fact that he’s taken on a leadership role here. He’s been around, had a lot of experience and is helping our guys face some of the problems he’s faced before.”
Following the morning skate, Sabres captain Brian Gionta paid tribute to goaltending legend and former teammate Martin Brodeur. The longtime ex-New Jersey netminder announced his retirement Thursday to take a front-office position with the St. Louis Blues.
“To have the privilege to play with him for so long was pretty special,” Gionta said. “You had him back there and to be a part of history with some of the things he accomplished was pretty special.”
The Sabres scratched Andre Benoit and Nikita Zadorov on defense for Thursday’s game, with coach Ted Nolan reiterating that he expects Zadorov to return to the lineup Friday. Nolan said no decision has been made on Friday’s goaltender, although Jhonas Enroth said during a radio interview Wednesday he wanted to play all four games on this road trip.
Cracked a smiling Nolan: “Well, he wants it. We want a lot of things. We want some wins too. We’ll see what happens.”