In a market famous for eating goalies alive, Vancouver Canucks netminder Ryan Miller has largely escaped criticism in the early stages of the season after signing an expensive three-year contract as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Presumably, when your win-loss record stands at 11-3-0, your only problems are of the champagne variety.
Sure, Miller has had the occasional standout performance, including a stellar 34-save showing against the San Jose Sharks and a spectacular 31-save outing against the St. Louis Blues. On the whole though, he's struggled enormously.
If one looks past his sterling record and solid goals-against average, Miller's .902 save percentage is next to horrendous. At even strength, his issues are even more pronounced.
So far this season, 29 NHL goaltenders have logged at least 400 even-strength minutes. No team employs two goaltenders who have played 400 minutes, so it can be used as a benchmark for identifying bona fide starters.
Of those 29 starting goalies, Miller's .902 even-strength save percentage ranks 27th - ahead of only Arizona Coyotes sieve Mike Smith and Minnesota Wild youngster Darcy Kuemper.
Miller's save percentage is likely to improve going forward, and he remains a decent bet to be an average NHL starter.
That positive regression could be aided by Miller's host body accepting the transplant teachings of Vancouver's notoriously particular goaltending coach, Rollie Melanson. At least that's the opinion of former Canucks goaltender Corey Hirsch, who worked with Miller as his goaltending coach with the St. Louis Blues last year.
As Hirsch told Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman:
Rollie Melanson has got him playing a lot smarter. He’s playing a little deeper in his net and not attacking so much. Teams were starting to pass around him he was so aggressive ... He’s a deep thinker for a goalie, you always have to explain why something will or won’t work for him. He’s still very talented, but I thought he was really behind in new goaltending techniques and saves.
Hirsch added that Melanson's teachings are particularly apparent along the ice.
"Rollie’s a big one knee down on the post guy. (Miller) is using it at the proper times now. On net drives only. He used to use it everywhere," Hirsch said.
Another goalie coach who Friedman spoke to, but chose to remain anonymous, suggested that when Miller has struggled - as he did last weekend in a 5-1 blowout loss to the Los Angeles Kings - it's been partly as a result of resorting to his old, aggressive habits.
Whether Miller can integrate Melanson's teachings, and find a way to stop at least an average rate of pucks at even strength going forward, will likely determine the Canucks' ultimate fate in the Western Conference this season.
Miller's struggles will attract attention in Vancouver if his game doesn't improve. This is Goalieville we're talking about, after all.
- Stats courtesy hockeyanalysis.com