rnrnrnrnRyan Miller has a reputation of being an all-star goaltender, and was part of a trade this year that sent him from Buffalo to St. Louis. St. Louis wanted better goaltending in an attempt to complete a team that is making a serious run at the Stanley Cup.rnrnBlues GM Doug Armstrong said at the time, “It may only be a 5 or 6 percent upgrade, but it’s an upgrade.” In this league, especially during the playoffs, that can be just enough to make a difference.rnrnMiller was impressive playing while playing in front of the worst team in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres, sporting a .923 save percentage (SV%), and a 2.72 goals against average (GAA). rnrnThe St. Louis Blues are considered one of the best defenses in the league. They finished third in goals allowed with 191, behind the Boston Bruins and L.A. Kings (177, and 174, respectively). The Sabres finished sixth worst, with 248 goals allowed. rnrnMiller was hot after the trade coming into St. Louis and winning four game straight. In only one of the four games Miller posted lower than a .920 SV%. rnrnBut now, at the worst possible time, Miller and the Blues have hit a speed bump. Miller’s last five starts going into the playoffs were all losses. In each of those five losses Miller allowed at least 3 goals, and in only one of them was his SV% higher than the .920 mark. His worst performance was against Minnesota, when he allowed 4 goals on 13 shots for an abysmal .692 SV%. rnrnIn his first eight games with St. Louis Miller went 7-0-1, playing against three teams that made the playoffs: Tampa Bay, Colorado, and Dallas – which was the shootout loss. The wins came against: Phoenix, Nashville – twice, Edmonton, and Winnipeg. rnrnIn his last eight games with St. Louis Miller went 2-0-6, playing against ONE team that did not qualify for playoffs: Washington, who they lost to. The other teams he faced were: Philadelphia – which was a win, Colorado, Detroit, Dallas twice, and Minnesota twice – games that were split for wins. rnrnOver that span of losses the Blues managed to play themselves out of contention for the President’s Trophy, and worse they ended up losing the Central division to Colorado, forcing a first round showdown with the defending Stanly Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. rnrnIn hockey, when things go wrong an unwritten rule is that you never blame the goalie. That’s doesn’t mean they are exempt from blame or criticism.rnrnThe playoffs are such a grind, many in the NHL consider it a new season, a fresh start. That better be the case for Miller. But Miller has struggled in the playoffs his entire career. He has only been to the NHL playoffs four times out of his eleven year career, and has a career playoff SV% of .917, just below that .920 mark. rnrnNow I’m no mathematician but I’m not sure where 5 or 6% better goaltending translates to Millers personal performance. I guess I’ve always been a victim of that old-school philosophy that you have to look at the individual person and see how that player plays the game, as opposed to looking at just the stats and numbers, to understand what type of player you’re actually getting. rnrnMany fans go back to Miller’s performance in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when he played for team USA. Miller’s stellar performance helped carry team USA to the medal round and a silver medal finish. Miller was named MVP of the tournament. His SV% was .939. rnrnTeam USA still finished with the silver medal, on a play looked like Miller’s fault. Instead of holding the puck for a whistle, Miller played it into the corner while his defensemen, Ryan Suter and Brian Rafalski were tired from a long shift and unprepared, assuming Miller was going to freeze the play. rnrnMiller is an all-star caliber goaltender. The knock against him is that he can’t get the big win in the clutch. After years of watching him closely, it seems to come down to a question of his mental fortitude. Is Miller tough enough mentally to stay focused, block out the distractions, the character questions, and forget the past; to focus on the next save?rnrnWho knows? rnrnOne thing is for sure: Losing is a habit. It can become a habit. It’s crucial to find players that “know how to win” as is so often said in sports. rnrnHopefully Miller can use this year to prove he’s one of them. Especially because now, the pressure and spotlight are on him. Miller now, has a good team in front of him. He has nothing to complain about and there’s no one else left to blame. The only guy he’s left with is the Man in the Mirror. rnrnWill this be the year, and the team with which Miller will finally find success? Or will it be another open gash of criticism and disappointment in a sub-par finish that leaves Miller singing the blues?rnrnrn
rnrnrnThanks for reading!