Miller's transition to Blues has been smooth and successful

News-DemocratMarch 18, 2014 

— After joining the St. Louis Blues with barely any time to prepare for his debut, veteran goaltender Ryan Miller has wasted little time making himself at home.

It could be the 33-year-old former Buffalo star's 7-0-1 record with the Blues, or his 1.61 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.

But what it comes down to is keeping pucks out of the net for a team that was already among the NHL's best before he got here.

"The last few years the playoffs have really put them through the battles and kind of tested them," said Miller, expected to be the starter again Wednesday for the Blues' road game against the Chicago Blackhawks. "You get a group of guys who are a little more resilient each time they go through something like that. You learn how to manage those emotions and show up and do the work the right way every night."

Miller's success hasn't all been about him. It's also about his communication with the defensemen in front of him as they learn more about how he plays pucks and a variety of other situations.

Miller has allowed two goals or fewer in seven of his eight starts and the Blues are 39-3 this season when the opponent score two or fewer.

As Miller continues to settle in, he admits there was some trepidation about changing teams since the Sabres were his only previous organization.

It helps having former Sabres teammates Steve Ott, Derek Roy and Jordan Leopold in St. Louis. Having a chance to make a deep playoff runs tends to put a positive spin on things as well.

"It was difficult for me to have to say good-bye to Buffalo," Miller said at the time he was traded. "It was something that kind of hit me a little harder than I actually thought it would. Now that I've had a chance to step away it becomes exciting. It's a great opportunity to step into a team that has confidence and feels good about itself -- and they're playing great hockey."

Miller adds another level of security on top of a strong defensive system that was being built long before his arrival.

"I think it's a lot of the same things we've done since day one," veteran Blues winger Brenden Morrow said. "It's just a competitive group, relentless on forecheck, relentless on tracking and trying to limit team's grade -A scoring chances.

"From day one that's something that this team has really focused on. We've done a pretty good job with it and when we've done it well, we have a lot of success."

Rugged winger Steve Ott needed few introductions inside the Blues' dressing room. Before playing for Buffalo, he spent the bulk of his career with the Western Conference's Dallas Stars.

"This Western Conference is my home. I spent so many years here it's basically all I know," Ott said. "I think I was still feeling an adjustment on the Eastern side before (coming) here. I've battled against this whole team for so long being in Dallas that I know what they're capable of."

Ott said both he and Miller appreciate the way the Blues' veteran leadership group made them feel wanted and welcome.

"It was extremely easy," Ott said. "They made the transition very comfortable. (It was) very easy to shake the nerves right away and just feel part of the group and part of the boys."

Blackhawks revisited

After passing the Blackhawks to grab the Central Division lead, the Blues (47-14-7, NHL-leading 101 points) have been successful in creating a little breathing room for themselves.

They began Tuesday with a nine-point lead over third-place Chicago and an eight-point lead over second-place Colorado. The Blues are 20-0-2 vs. the Central Division this season, have won their last three games overall and are 8-0-1 in their last nine.

That includes a 3-0 record against the Blackhawks, although two games went to shootouts and all three were decided by one goal.

"We've spent six months earning this, we don't want to give it up," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who keeps prodding his team for more. "Nobody's going away on us...this is going to be a hard go to keep it."

Blues captain David Backes had two goals Monday in a 3-1 home win over Winnipeg, giving him 23 this season. He is one of eight Blues with 11 or more goals and four with more than 21.

"I don't think we're even close to scratching the surface offensively of what we're capable of," said Hitchcock, whose team is expected to have T.J. Oshie back Wednesday after Oshie missed Monday's game to participate in the birth of his first child. "We've had some guys who have had good years, but we've got a lot of guys who have got a lot more to give. It's their opportunity now."

With three goals and eight points in his previous seven games, Oshie has 17 goals and 54 points, tying his career high achieved in 2011-12.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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