Miller's calm demeanor masks intense competitive spirit

News-DemocratApril 2, 2014 

— One of the first things you notice after watching and being around Ryan Miller a few times is the absence of high-end emotion.

For an NHL goaltender, that's usually a good thing.

Miller was no different Tuesday after his sparkling 1-0 shutout win over Philadelphia than he was after other victories since joining the St. Louis Blues in a trade with Buffalo.

At 33 and the author of 29 career shutouts, he's seen just about everything the game of hockey has to offer.

"At this point in my career I'm just trying to be really calm about everything," Miller said after recording his first shutout since 2012, a span of 100 games. "There's no sense letting things get off the rails and panicking too much. Hockey's the kind of game where things sometimes go your way and sometimes they don't despite what you do.

"You compete hard, you do all the right things and you see where you end up with it."

On Tuesday night, Miller ended up with the awe and appreciation of teammates and his coach, Ken Hitchcock.

Miller is 10-3-1 with the Blues, compiling a 2.01 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He will not be in net Thursday against his former team, with Hitchcock choosing to use backup Brian Elliott instead.

Miller will return Saturday against Colorado.

With the Flyers buzzing the Blues' net, especially in the first period, it was a game that cried out for a strong goaltending performance.

The Blues got one as the Miller stole a win from the Flyers.

"We got to see when he's on, how special he can be," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said.

Miller also demonstrated an uncanny ability to read plays and sniff out chances, always in position to turn danger into another save.

Several times he used his stick to thwart set-up plays from behind or near the net.

"The feeling on the bench for me was they weren't going to score," Hitchcock said. "I haven't had that feeling in a game. ... There's been lots of times where Ells (Brian Elliott) and Jaro (Halak) played well, but we also played well in front of them. But we really needed a goalie (and) he came through big time."

Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said watching Miller make big saves like the one he made late on Jakub Voracek and others lit a spark under the club.

"You're on the bench and you're fired up," Jackman said. "The boys were on their feet after a few of those saves, especially the one late on Voracek there. You definitely feel the momentum; you feel the energy in the building when he's making those big saves."

Blues winger T.J. Oshie agreed.

"When a guy stands on his head like that for you, you want to do everything you can to get the win," said Oshie, Miller's teammate on the U.S. Olympic team in Russia. "I think Millsie's a very mature veteran goaltender. You can tell he cares a lot about the guys and we had more letdowns in front of him than he had for us, so it was good to see him battle out there and get us the two points."

Hitchcock was reminded of another veteran goaltender that once helped him win a Stanley Cup in Dallas.

"I think what you saw was how competitive he is," Hitchcock said of Miller. "That's his calling card. He's a competitive person. He was really disappointed with the way he played the last game. We really needed him today and he was really competitive.

"I haven't seen that for a long time in anybody really since (Ed) Belfour where a guy makes that many great saves. It was really neat to watch, to be honest with you."

Shootout stars

Now 9-3 in shootouts this season, the Blues don't tend to panic once the game reaches that nerve-wracking level.

It could be attributed to Oshie, who has scored on a league-leading 9-of-12 shootout tries --and don't forget his 4-for-6 performance for Team USA against Russia at the Olympics.

"You don't want to jinx the kid, but he's unbelievable," Jackman said after Oshie led off Tuesday's shootout with another goal. "Everyone's seen it and now he's known on the international stage. He's got amazing skill and vision where he can read goaltenders and he did it again (Tuesday)."

Alexander Steen didn't score in the shootout Tuesday, but is 5-for-10 while Shattenkirk is 3-for-6 after netting the game-winner.

"It's a heck of a lot easier to be shooting for the win than trying to keep the shootout going," Shattenkirk said. "It's an opportunity I really enjoy. It helps having a guy like Osh go first, because when you get that first goal it puts a lot of pressure on the other team."

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

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