Miller one sharp Sabre

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

BUFFALO -- If Ryan Miller really is, as he says, paranoid, it's tough to imagine what goes through the minds of the other 60 or so goaltenders in the National Hockey League.

The Buffalo Sabres netminder, few would argue, has been the best goalie in the NHL this season. Before he strapped on his pads to play the Maple Leafs last night, the 29-year-old led the league with a .937 save percentage, a 1.88 goals-against average and was tied with Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoenix Coyotes for the league lead with four shutouts.

Yet Miller, who undoubtedly will start for the U.S. at the Olympics in February, realizes he has not accomplished anything yet.

"You win a game, and it might be your last," Miller said. "You have to go out there and prove it every night."

The rail-thin Miller -- he is 6-foot-2, but barely tips the scales at a wiry 170 pounds -- doesn't like the idea that some think he is without peers so far in 2009-10. Miller's terrific play, which resulted in a 20-7-2 personal record through last night, was the main reason the Sabres are in first place in the Northeast Division.

"To throw titles around, that kind of stuff is earned in tournament play like the Olympics and in the playoffs, the ultimate tournament where you grind it out for two months," Miller said. "I just have become a little more consistent in my old age. You know what you are going to get from me."

In four full NHL seasons, Miller has made a habit of winning more games than he has lost, but for Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, there has been a difference in Miller's play this year.

"A big part of it is mental," Ruff said. "It's putting away situations in games quick enough that you can stay on track, not let things bother you. His ability to put plays away is probably his best asset right now."

Case in point came last night against the Leafs. After rookie Viktor Stalberg scored for Toronto early, Miller made several key saves to keep his sleep-walking teammates in the game.

As for the Olympics, Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who will guide the Americans in Vancouver, has all but said Miller will be his starter.

"I'm waiting for USA Hockey to say: 'You're going to be on the team,' " Miller said. "I have not made any plans. Not until you get the word, not until you get on the plane to Vancouver. There is so much work to be done here."

TERRY.KOSHAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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