Miller returning to form with the Sabres

Colin Miller is starting to pick up his game as of late playing alongside Rasmus Dahlin

Brayton Wilson
February 17, 2020 - 11:23 am

Earlier in the 2019-20 season, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Colin Miller found himself in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch with a number of NHL caliber defensemen on the roster. With him being shuffled in and out of the lineup, there was even some talk starting to grow surrounding his future in Buffalo and whether he could be traded less than a full season into his first year with the organization.

However, his play as of late has forced head coach Ralph Krueger to consistently put Miller in the lineup, which has since silenced some of the questions surrounding his future with the Sabres.

This season, the 27-year-old has appeared in 43 games, scoring a goal and registering 10 assists for 11 points. Since the turn of the calendar year, Miller has started to play particularly better and more consistently, picking up five assists in 14 games.

Despite finding himself in-and-out of the lineup from time-to-time this season, the veteran defenseman is happy to be finding some more consistent playing time as he has started to solidify his role as a top-six defenseman on this roster.

"It was frustrating, but we had a lot of defensemen that they were trying to figure out pairings and rolls and all of that," Miller said following Monday's practice at KeyBank Center. "It's just not anything that you can really control there. You just have to keep coming to the rink and working hard and doing what you can."

The Sabres acquired the 27-year-old defenseman this past offseason from the Vegas Golden Knights to bring in some much needed veteran depth and skill on the blue line. In his five-year career in the National Hockey League with the Golden Knights and the Boston Bruins, Miller has put together some decent numbers with 23 career goals and 110 points in 293 games.

Miller is on pace to finish the 2019-20 season with two goals and 15 assists in 66 games, which would be his lowest point total since his years with the Bruins, but he feels that his game is getting better as the season continues to progress. 

"I think it's more consistency," Miller said. "The more games you're in, the more games you're playing and stuff like that, the more rhythm and stuff we have. So I think on the back end, we have some good consistency right now with the [defensive] pairings, so hopefully it continues."

On Sunday night, Miller ended up registering his first multi-point effort with the Sabres this season, picking up two assists on a pair of second period goals in a 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at KeyBank Center.

His recent pace of play on the blue line has not gone unnoticed by his head coach, who has Miller averaging just over 17 minutes per-game.

"He started the season in a comfortable position. We didn't have the competition that we had, and it was a tough grind in the middle there, where we were eight-plus defensemen fighting for spots," Krueger said following Monday's practice. "We did a lot of 7-11s, and it was not easy being a defenseman in our lineup. You had to have a very good game all the time to stay in there. I think just the comfort of now being one of the top-six and knowing that the confidence is there makes him calmer in his game both defensively and offensively. He's been excellent in adding some punch, a surprising punch at times, and we all know his shot is a lethal weapon that we need to use more in our game. Yesterday was a great example, off those two shots of getting two goals, of how dangerous Colin can be. But again, I'm going to come back to the importance of our game without the puck. It's all about the pressure and the gapping, and what you need to do to be in this lineup, not only now but for the future, and he's working really hard on those fundamentals, which don't come easy, and it demands a lot from the players game-in and game-out. We like the way Colin has been evolving on both sides of the puck."

Miller has been a guy that has found himself moving around on the blue line quite a bit this offseason, filling in several different roles along with different partners. He's found himself playing plenty of time on the second power play unit as the quarterback on the blue line, while also getting some time in critical situations in the defensive end.

As of late, Miller has found himself playing his best hockey at even strength on a pairing with 19-year-old Rasmus Dahlin. The pair have been able to drive the play into the opposition's end, while also providing some solid play in the defensive end and holding things down at bay.

Both Miller and Dahlin had gotten some playing time with one another earlier in the season, and now they both enjoy playing with one another and feeding off each other's play.

"We help each other a lot out there," Dahlin said after Monday's practice. "He's a great two-way [defenseman], he likes to have the puck on the blue line, he likes to shoot. I like to pass, and we have a really good gap together. We trust each other out there, and we just got to build on this and try to get better."

"He's fun to play with," Miller said. "Obviously he's so skilled and he's mature beyond his years, so we just try to compliment each other well and I think we've been doing a good job up-ice. As long as we take care of our own end, then it seems to work out."

With 23 games left in the season, it's crunch time for the Sabres if they want to have any hopes of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Buffalo currently sits at 27-24-8 with 62 points in the standings, which is eight points behind the Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division. The team has won three straight games since their 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks last week Sunday, and will be looking to extend their win streak to four games on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. Buffalo has yet to have a win streak of more than three games this season.

Miller believes that if the Sabres are to continue to have success as a group, the defense has to continue to do its job to help chip in offensively whenever it can.

"I think offensively as a whole, our team has done a really good job of moving it low-to-high to the [defense]," Miller said. "A lot of the [defense] has been open and getting shots through. The forwards have done a good job in front too."

At practice on Monday, the Sabres announced the forward Johan Larsson and goalie Carter Hutton were given the day off for maintenance days, but both will travel with the team for Tuesday night's matchup with the  Senators. Krueger expects both players to be fine and play on Tuesday.

However, forward Michael Frolik missed another day of practice due to an illness and he will not be able to travel with the team.

The team also made some news on Monday with the signing of Rochester Americans forward Taylor Leier to a two-way contract for the remainder of the season. He was placed on waivers on Monday and will need to clear at noon on Tuesday in order for the team to be able to call him up. However, it is expected that Leier will remain with the Amerks and will not report to Buffalo.

Here is how the lines looked with defenseman John Gilmour filling in for Larsson up front:

 

Olofsson - Eichel - Reinhart

Johansson - Lazar - Vesey

Skinner - Rodrigues - Sheary

Girgensons - Gilmour - Okposo

 

Later on Monday, the team announced that it has assigned goalie Andrew Hammond to the Amerks, while forward Scott Wilson has been called back up to Buffalo The Sabres needed an extra forward available to them if Larsson is somehow unable to play in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Faceoff between the Sabres and Senators is set for 7:30 p.m. with the Paul William Beltz Pregame Show starting at 6:30 p.m. on WGR.

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