HAZELWOOD, Mo. — There will be a first time for Ryan Miller to face the Buffalo Sabres someday. He said here Wednesday he’s particularly looking forward to the day he returns to First Niagara Center next season.
But as for trying to thwart his old Blue & Gold tonight in Scottrade Center, the St. Louis Blues goaltender – and yes, that does sound and look weird – will be taking the night off.
Brian Elliott, and not Miller, will be in goal for the Blues tonight against Buffalo. St. Louis is trying to catch Boston for the Presidents’ Trophy and stay ahead of Anaheim and San Jose in the Western Conference. Tonight is a rare breather in the schedule, as the Blues have matinee showdowns here Saturday against Colorado and Sunday at Chicago.
Miller has to be ready for those.
“It’s fine. There will be a lot of time to worry about that later,” Miller said about a Buffalo reunion following practice Wednesday in the suburban St. Louis Mills Ice Zone. “This year, I’m pretty fresh leaving that situation so maybe it’s just a nice little break. Get ‘Ells’ in there. He’s going to kick some pucks out. Hopefully I’ll see some of the boys for dinner or around the rink or something. Catch up and see how they’re doing.”
The Blues were prepared to defer to Miller on this one, but he opted for the much bigger picture.
“We talked to him and said, ‘Listen, do you have to play against Buffalo? Does it matter?’”’ said coach Ken Hitchcock. “He didn’t care one way or the other. So it set up our schedule nicely for what we wanted to do right to the end of the season.”
Miller got a little emotional when asked what it will be like to see his old teammates on the other bench.
“It’s going to be a little strange,” he said with a small crack in his voice. “Definitely with a group of guys you’d played with for a number of years, it’s going to be a little bit different. All great guys, all guys I count as friends. I’m looking forward to seeing them. That’s the human side of it.”
While Miller will sit, former Buffalo captain Steve Ott is itching to get going for his first game against his old team. Ott sat out Wednesday’s optional skate and had already left the building when reporters entered the Blues locker room, but he told The News by phone he’s extra hyped.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot, but I’m trying to take it like any game where you have friends out there,” Ott said. “I’m just going to be myself and I expect them to be the same. There’s no friends on the ice, but what’s said and done on the ice stays there and gets forgotten pretty quick.
“I’m going to play hard against them and expect them to play hard at me. You owe that to the league.”
Ott wouldn’t specify who on the Buffalo roster he thinks might try to match him chirp for chirp. He said he and former Sabre Cody McCormick shared a couple smirks when they bumped during a recent St. Louis-Minnesota game.
“Nothing major there. It was all good,” Ott said.
“I hope none of the boys start trying to wake him up too much,” a smiling Miller said of the Sabres. “You know how he gets when he gets really awake. I don’t think anybody is going to try to give him too hard a time. He likes to stir things up. I’m sure he’s going to be running his mouth a little bit and getting into guys.”
Miller is coming off perhaps his best performance as a Blue, Tuesday’s 1-0 shootout win over Philadelphia that saw him make 31 saves in the game and two more in the shootout. He’s 10-3-2 since the Feb. 28 trade to St. Louis, with a glossy 2.01 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
But until Tuesday, Miller had allowed three or more goals in four of his previous five starts. The shutout was his first since March 21, 2012 against Montreal, the longest active drought for an NHL starter.
“I’ve seen it a few times and not many goalies can win a game almost on his own like ‘Millsy’ can,” Ott said. “And he was there right from the first five minutes making some great saves.”
Miller lost several shutouts the last couple of years in Buffalo on goals late in third periods. He knew he couldn’t afford that this time.
“That probably helped a little bit,” he said. “It was not just for that little bonus at the end. It was really for the victory. This team keeps showing me they’re willing to grind and play hard in the corners, and I’ve got to show I can grind out a game too as part of our ongoing relationship.”
Miller said he offered Elliott some tips on how to play Pittsburgh shooters during a recent game and would be available for advice on Buffalo skaters, particularly during a shootout. Will Elliott pick Miller’s brain a lot otherwise on his old team?
“No, his brain is too complicated,” Elliott joked. “I just like to keep it simple, play my own game and wait for the puck to come to me.”
A win tonight would be St. Louis’ 52nd of the season, breaking the franchise mark of 51 set in 1999-2000. Those Blues won the Presidents’ Trophy with 114 points but were upset in the first round of the playoffs in seven games by San Jose.
The other former Sabres on the Blues’ roster, Derek Roy and Jordan Leopold, will both play tonight. Roy has nine goals and 28 assists on the season, but no goals in the last 15 games. Leopold (one goal, five assists) will return after an 18-game absence due to an ankle injury and illness.