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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

For USA It's Miller's Job to Lose

Wild on Sports
For USA It's Miller's Job to Lose
By Wild on Sports Analyst Jason Gillson

All the talk leading up to Thursday's opening game for the United States Men's Hockey team has been the status of who will start in goal against Slovakia. Arguably the most important position in the ice in the big game atmosphere is still up in the air according to USA Coach Dan Bylsma who, at least publicly, has yet to name his starter. It is an important decision, critical to the success of team USA and their chances to medal for a second straight Olympics.

By all accounts, Ryan Miller was the reason Team USA won the silver medal in Vancouver in 2010. He stole a game from the Canadians in the qualifying round on their home ice and carried the team on his back in the heart breaking loss to those same Canadians in the gold medal game. Without him there is no silver medal. In all likelihood no medal at all.

The Americans don't have the scoring depth of Canada, they don't have the flash of Russia and are probably neck and neck with Sweeden and Finland when it comes to all around talent.

When you are bit behind the eight-ball from the get go in terms of personal, the one great equalizer can be the goaltender and that is what Ryan Miller was in 2010 and could be again in 2014 if given the opportunity.

His biggest competition comes from Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. Quick has a Stanley Cup to his name and was widely regarded over the summer at development camp and the country's top goaltender and likely starter for Sochi. 

After getting off to a shaky start to the season, Quick missed over a month of the season due to injury before returning to the ice mid-December. Since his return from injury his play has look more like that of the Stanley Cup winner goaltender than what we saw early in the season, but that is what you get with Quick. 

At his best the ceiling is probably the highest of any goaltender in the red-white and blue. The consistency is the wild card. Quick plays a very aggressive style that serves him well behind a group of excellent more stay-at-home defensemen in a system that prides itself on limiting quality scoring opportunities to opponents. How that translated to the larger Olympic ice surface behind more offensive minded defensemen remains to be seen.

For Team USA this is really a good problem to have. You have two goalies who they feel very confident in that potentially could backstop them to the Medal Round. But who is going to win it? Who is it going to be?

Coach Bylsma may have tipped his hand a bit on Tuesday. “We know who we’re going with, but we haven’t told the guys (Miller or Quick) just yet. We’ll make that announcement before our first game," said Bylsma, whose primary job is the Pittsburgh Penguins’coach.  

"In our situation, we've had a goalie play real well all year long, and we've had two goalies that have had injuries that have come back in the last month or so,” he said. “You might have some ideas in the summertime. This year, we let it play out. We've seen all our goalies play really well, and we've seen Ryan play the whole year and do very, very well on a team that's struggling. And Jonathan’s got a track record, and he’s come back in the last month and he played well as well.”

The "all year long" and "summertime" comments really stick out and may hint that Miller has the slight edge. He has been very strong all year for the Buffalo Sabers who have probably the worst team in the NHL playing in front of him. Despite his team's deficiencies, Miller boasts a .923 save percentage and 2.74 goals against. Quick's save percentage (the primary stat used when comparing goaltenders) stands at .911 in limited action this season.

The numbers trend to and the coach hints to it once again being "MillerTime" at the Olympics. For Coach Bylsma it's the right decision to make.


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