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"Dom Like"

When Miller Sparkles, Sabres win

So why exactly are the Buffalo Sabres in the neighborhood of first place in the Northeast Division? Two words: Ryan Miller. The Sabres starting netminder has logged a league leading 16 wins this season, a goals against average of 1.90 and a .935 save percentage.

A week ago Saturday, the Sabres looked listless playing the woeful Carolina Hurricanes at HSBC Arena. With the team down 1-0 in the second period, Miller made a diving glove save on Rob Brind’Amour’s rebound attempt which had everyone in the building shaking their heads. “It was Dom-Like,” mused Coach Lindy Ruff after the game.

It was Miller’s save that lifted the bench, and the Sabres exploded for five goals in the third period to win that game going away. Two nights later, Miller earned a shutout up in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

While Miller deserves much of the credit for the Sabres’ league-leading goals-against record in the standings, credit also has to be given to the team’s blueliners. Look at the pairings: Chris Butler-Craig Rivet, Henrik Tallinder-Tyler Myers, Steve Montador-Toni Lydman. None of them stand out amongst the league’s top 30, yet collectively they are quietly getting the job done.

Can Miller keep it up?

Since the days of Dominik Hasek, coach Lindy Ruff has ridden his starting goalie as far as he could take the team. Backup netminders were here to do mop up service, usually with disappointing results. Or to take over the reins when the starter went down—again, with disappointing results.

Miller says he feels fine, and will continue to be the ironman in net as long as the coach continues to call on him. “As long as Lindy taps me on the shoulder, I’ll play it and we’ll continue to get the reps in practice. I think it’s important to get Patty [goaltender Pat Lalime] into a rhythm. I don’t think Patty’s gotten into a rhythm yet and last year, with the injury and all, after he got into a few games he got his rhythm back.”

Many hope that goaltending help will come in the form of former Sabres goalie Martin Biron. Now playing for the New York Islanders, Biron will be relegated to third string once Rick DiPietro returns to full-time duty. DiPietro is back in action, working a conditioning assignment with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and should be back with the Islanders by mid December.

Biron has made no secret that he would love to come back to Buffalo if the circumstances were right. Biron and his family love Western New York; Buffalo is the team that drafted him and where he came of age as a hockey player, and he would be a great fit back with his old team. If the Sabres will have him.

Miller showed his human side this past Monday, letting in one very cheap goal in a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. “This is not on Ryan,” Ruff fumed after that game, while refusing to admit that he might be overplaying his star goaltender. “We’re on a schedule and with back-to-back games, he’ll get a night off,” said Ruff.

Montreal Canadiens: Happy 100th

In case you missed it, the Montreal Canadiens held their 100th birthday celebration last Friday at the Bell Centre, and an elaborate pregame ceremony prior to their game against the Boston Bruins aired on the NHL Network and on CBC. Two of the oldest living Canadiens, Elmer Lach and Emile Bouchard, had their numbers added to the now crowded rafters of their arena.

One of the most poignant moments of the evening was seeing Detroit icon Gordie Howe step onto the ice carrying the jersey of his old rival Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Howe then introduced one of his other rivals, Canadiens great Jean Beliveau.

Also in attendance were past coaches Claude Ruel, Jean Perron, Jacques Demers, and Scotty Bowman, all Stanley Cup winners with the team. But there were some jeers reserved as well: Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s videotaped message was drowned out by a rain of boos.

As usual, Montreal’s elaborate and poignant ceremony brought chills to anyone who loves this sport. Amidst the backdrop of this celebration, it is important to remember that this iconic franchise’s Stanley Cup drought is at a record 16 years. And counting.

Tar Sez...

■ The 2010 NHL amateur draft will be staged in California for the first time ever. June 25-26, 2010 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

■ File this under: “I couldn’t do this if I tried a hundred more times.” In the recent win over the Leaves in Toronto, Ryan Miller attempted to clear the puck out of the zone using the boards. In doing so he managed to fire the puck through the tiny hole that photographers use to get shots of the action on the ice. The photographer took a shot to the face but was otherwise unharmed. Miller skated over to check out how the man was, then after the game presented him with his game stick.

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