After getting a look at both of his goaltenders this weekend, Ted Nolan said he planned to “ride the horse” in regards to Ryan Miller. The Buffalo netminder said Monday there will be times he needs to stay in the stable.
The NHL schedule is condensed this season because of the two-week Olympic break in February. It will be hard for teams to use one goaltender exclusively regardless of how well he is playing.
Through the Sabres’ opening 22 games, Miller has made 15 starts and Jhonas Enroth made seven. Miller is going to make at least the next two, tonight against St. Louis in First Niagara Center and Thursday in Philadelphia.
“It’s going to be up to me to play well and up to me to just kind of keep it going,” Miller said. “But it is a tight schedule, Olympic season, we’re going to have to figure in rest and everything. We’ll get caught up further down the line here. I think he’s just trying to get a feel for everything, and we can have that discussion further on about rest and timing and stuff like that because it is going to be a factor, something where I want to maximize the way I’m playing and sustain this for the long haul.”
Ever since his 76-game season in 2007-08, Miller has strived to balance playing with downtime. He performs better with occasional breaks, and he wants to remain in peak form so USA Hockey names him to its Olympic team.
Miller is just 4-11 with a 3.13 goals-against average and .919 save percentage, but he’s faced 568 shots (third in the league) and made 522 saves (also third).
“Over 40 shots on a consistent basis, I don’t care who you are, you’re going to get tired,” Nolan said. “I probably would have played him back-to-back the other night, but because of the system, the way it was organized previous, I didn’t. Now we’ve put our own stamp on it.
“We’re going to try to limit those shots down a little bit, watch his practice time and keep him as fresh as we can for as long as we can.”
Enroth, who hopes to make Sweden’s Olympic team, is 1-5-1 with a 2.88 GAA and .906 save percentage. Nolan would have liked him to stop two of the goals that went in Saturday during Toronto’s 4-2 win over Buffalo.
“I thought Jhonas has played really well this year,” Miller said. “He’s had some really strong starts. The idea is that you try and balance it and make it a partnership. That’s been the recipe for success for a lot of teams lately.”
Defenseman Mike Weber is expected to return to the lineup tonight. He’s missed 10 games since breaking his thumb on a shot block Oct. 25 in Florida.
“I’m ready to rock,” said Weber, who practiced alongside Jamie McBain during the Sabres’ drills.
Weber has no points in 11 games and is minus-12. Only Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov (minus-14) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (minus-13) are worse.
Rookies Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov practiced as Buffalo’s fourth pairing.
The Sabres have a major test in their goal to limit the opponent’s shots. St. Louis leads the NHL with a plus-85 shot differential in November, which has helped it go 6-2-1 this month. The Blues have outshot their opponents in eight straight games, including their 47-shot barrage against Washington on Sunday.
The Blues are a league-best 30-9-5 in interconference play since 2010-11. Forward Alexander Steen had a points streak of 13 straight games snapped during Sunday’s 4-1 loss in Washington, but he entered Monday’s schedule leading the league with 26 points and tied with Alexander Ovechkin for the lead in goals with 17.
St. Louis also has former Sabres center Derek Roy, who has five goals and 11 points in 19 games. It will be Roy’s first game in Buffalo since being traded to Dallas for Steve Ott in July 2012.
“We know what they have,” Nolan said. “We know how well they’re coached. We know how big they are. If you want to get into a slugfest with the St. Louis Blues, you ain’t going to fare too well. We have to come up with a different game plan against them.”