Did you know that Dominik Hasek, soon to be age 46, was last week’s “Best Goaltender” in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League? He was 3-0 with two shutouts and a .966 save percentage.
For the season, Hasek is 18-17-3 with a 2.54 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. Not bad, right? I know, it’s only the KHL. There are quite a few NHL-caliber players over there -- the leading scorer is Predators-defector Alexander Radulov, and by the way third in league penalty minutes is Chris Simon.
As it happens, Ryan Miller’s save percentage this season in the NHL is the same as Hasek’s: .912. (They also both have 18 wins.) Feels to many that Miller is having an off season. Yet, where does his save percentage rank among his full NHL seasons? Fourth, out of six. A higher percentage of shots against Miller went in during the 2006-07 Presidents’ Trophy season than this year.
Heading into Thursday’s play, Miller ranks 25th this season in NHL goals-against average and 26th in save percentage. In goals-against average his closest competitors are Dwayne Roloson, Jose Theodore, Jaroslav Halak and Antti Niemi.
Roloson and Theodore are journeymen. Halak and Niemi were 2010 playoff stars.
But just what is Ryan Miller?
He’s neither a journeyman or a playoff star. He’s not either the likes of Hasek, a two-time league MVP. What he is, is a good goalie. At times in his career, like much of last season, among the best. At other times not. In him, the Sabres have a player they can count on to play a lot and generally, by the league standard, at a pretty good level. But not an elite one. In shootouts, like in regulation play, his stats are merely pretty good. (This year he’s faced six shots and stopped four.)
In his prime, Hasek was so good that it became accepted around hockey that he was by far the leading reason the Sabres were ever a Stanley Cup threat. (In my opinion this was not always true but for this example it’s true enough.) Miller, 30, presents the Sabres with a decent goalie but not one that can be expected to make a real difference in a playoff series -- not that this should be a problem this year.
This is largely because of the high level of goaltending around the league. Last season, for example, the Boston Bruins sent their reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Tim Thomas to the bench for their playoff series with the Sabres, and won anyway behind rookie Tuukka Rask. (This year, Thomas is a strong candidate to win the Vezina again.)
Think about that. Miller and the Sabres, a team that year after year struggle mightily to give their backup goalie even a single regular-season start, went down in a playoff series to a team that played its second-best guy.
I haven’t done much here but rehash some stats. It’s time for a point, so here’s one: If you’re going to compare Ryan Miller with Dominik Hasek, it had best about their performances this season, because they're close. Otherwise you may sound loony.