Saturday, February 4, 2012

(Almost) any top goalie would falter with this group of skaters in front of them

Ryan Miller is having an incredibly poor season this year. Fans are booing his $6.25M salary (and cap hit) and busting out the old Mr. Softie schtick, although, surprisingly, not as much as last season.

While some still look at Miller as average and his contract as an albatross, most would agree that the problems on the Sabres are not goalie specific, as evidenced by Jhonas Enroth who is 3-9-3 since early November. Enroth's gaa went from 2.00 at the end of October to 2.59 at the end of last month. During that time his sv% went from .946 to .919.

With the team playing like they have been all season, unless your "The Dominator," the chances for success are minimal for oneself as well as the team.


Without rehashing the whole Milan Lucic incident, it's safe to say that Miller still suffered symptoms of his concussion/neck injury for months following the hit, and his play showed it.

But he, and Enroth as well, got little offensive support from his teammates.

Last season, on two separate occasions, I did a statistical comparison between starting goalies and the effects of the team in front of them. The first was comparing Miller to Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard.

Howard had a team in front of him that was 2nd in the league in scoring and despite his 2.83 gaa and .906 sv%, he was 27-11-6.

Miller at the time was 19-19-5, with a 2.64 gaa and a .912 sv%. The team in front of him was 18th in the league in scoring.

NY Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is the rage right now, and he should be. He's one of the best, if not THE best, goalie in the league right now.

Miller is often compared to Lundqvist because of their salaries. In fact, Miller's salary was based upon that of "King Henrik." They also play a similar style.

Back in March of last year I did a "tale of the tape" between the two. While Lundqvist was a definitive winner in the regular season, the playoff stats were in favor of Miller.

Miller's line in the playoffs: 22-18, 2.39 gaa, .917 sv.%
Lundqvist stat line: 14-16, 2.66 gaa, .907 sv.%

For years the Philadelphia Flyers boasted the best group of skaters in the NHL from top to bottom, throwing nearly all of their cap-space there while neglecting the goalies. They gambled that they could get by with a roulette wheel of second-rate netminders.

But, it didn't get them to the promised land. They came close having lost to Chicago in the finals, but close wasn't good enough for Chairman Ed Snyder.

At his behest, GM Paul Holmgren created cap-space by moving his top-two centers and went after a bonafide #1 goalie.

Ilya Bryzgalov was said to be languishing in Phoenix before the Flyers signed the free agent to a front-loaded 9yr. contract that averages nearly $5.7M per season.

Right now the Flyers sit in 4th place in the Eastern Conference behind the Rangers while missing their top defenseman, Chris Pronger. They're doing it with scoring as the team is 3rd in the league in goals/game.

Bryzgalov has been stellar in four of his last five games with a 1.75 gaa and a .937 sv. %, giving up one goal in four of the five (he gave up five in the other.)

His record now stands at 19-10-5. Compare that to Miller's record of 13-15-3. Bryz has a 2.87 gaa, Miller, 2.89. His sv.% is .898, Miller's is .904.

Even Buffalo's back-up goalies over the past few seasons have been directly affected by the play in front of them.

During the 2010/11 season, Enroth wrested the reigns of back-up goalie by going 9-2-2 with a 2.73 gaa and a .907 sv.%. During the previous year Sabres back-up goalie Patrick Lalime had a 2.81 gaa and a .907 sv%. Yet his record was 4-8-2.

The fact of the matter is this, Ryan Miller is not Dominic Hasek. Neither is Henrik Lundqvist, nor any other goalie in the NHL. The teams playing in front of goalies are important to their success as well as the success of the team.

If you put Miller in Detroit last season or with the Rangers this season, odds are that he would be in the Vezina conversation.

I guarantee that there are a number of teams including the Flyers who would love to have Miller.

The Chicago Blackhawks and the Ottawa Sentators are presently in playoff positions, both of whom are having troubles right now directly related to goaltending woes--Chicago ranks 25th in gaa, Ottawa 28th. Chicago's starter, Corey Crawford, is 18-13-5 with numbers slightly below Miller and the Sen's, Craig Anderson is 25-17-5 with a poorer gaa and a slightly better sv%.

This is not to say that Buffalo will win the Stanley Cup someday with Miller in net. But it's simply to point out that the Sabres woes can be attributed more to a poor/underachieving group of skaters than to a goalie who's "perceived" as average and way overpaid.

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