BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ryan Miller went back to work Wednesday, and his return to game action doesn’t appear far away, either.
After practising for the first time since sustaining a concussion Nov. 12, Miller, one of eight regulars out of the Buffalo Sabres lineup, didn’t give a definitive timetable for his comeback.
His coach, though, seemed genuinely optimistic about getting his No. 1 goaltender back within a few days.
“I wouldn’t,” Lindy Ruff said, “rule the weekend out.”
That’s good news for a limping Sabres team (13-10-1) that will host Detroit on Friday before travelling to Nashville to play the Predators on Saturday. Buffalo is a pedestrian-like 3-4-1 without Miller, who was bowled over by Boston’s Milan Lucic in the first period of a 6-2 loss to the Bruins in one of the league’s more controversial incidents this season.
“When you have the number of injuries we have, it’s a big boost to get some key personnel back,” Ruff said. “To get your goalie back, we know what he means to our team and what he’s meant to this franchise. It’s a boost for us.”
Miller was upbeat following the practice, but said he hadn’t finalized anything with team doctors or sat down with the coaching staff regarding a target date. Still, he was pleased with how he’s progressed over the last couple of days, especially with getting his conditioning up to a comfortable level.
“I sat around for about two weeks, but I feel pretty good considering where my heart rate’s been,” Miller said. “That’s a good sign for me. I can get it high and still feel pretty good. We’ll go from today to tomorrow, and see how I feel.”
Though Wednesday was the first time he’s been involved in a full practice setting, he faced shots Monday and Tuesday on the ice.
“It’s just getting the timing back,” Miller said.
With Miller’s heartbeat on the rise, Ruff’s heart nearly stopped when forward Ville Leino toppled over Miller while the goalie was in an awkward position in the crease. Despite the scare, though, Miller’s presence was a welcome sight.
“You never want to see a guy go down with injury, especially a starting goaltender,” centre Derek Roy said. “He’s a battler and a competitor, and he wants to be out on the ice and contribute. It’s good to see him back, and a lot of guys are excited.”
Miller also did some damage control, squashing a recent rumour about his future and a potential trade.
“My comment about my status with the team now is that I’m proud to be a Sabre, I’m excited for what we can accomplish moving forward, and I want to be a part of it,” he said. “I’ve never in my time here talked to Lindy, (general manager) Darcy (Regier), or ownership about a trade.
“And they’ve never come to me asking for any options.”
Miller acknowledged he isn’t oblivious as to why trade rumours involving him would rise. He recently married California-based actress Noureen DeWulf, and a deal to a West team would make sense.
He’s also in the midst of one of his worst stretches as a pro. He had lost four straight at one point, and was yanked early in the first period after allowing three early goals in a loss to Philadelphia Nov. 2.
“I can understand why there’s speculation,” said Miller, who is just 5-6 with a 2.86 goals-against average this season. “I went through a tough stretch of hockey and didn’t have a chance to dig myself out yet because of the injury.
“I know I need to be better and I’m working on that.”
The Sabres are without forwards Brad Boyes (right leg), Patrick Kaleta (groin), Tyler Ennis (ankle), and Cody McCormick (upper body), and defencemen Jordan Leopold (upper body), Mike Weber (upper body ) and Tyler Myers (broken wrist).
Leopold joined the elongated injury list when he was hurt in the first period of Tuesday’s loss to the New York Islanders, and he isn’t expected back for a week. To fill Leopold’s spot, the Sabres called up defenceman Joe Finley from AHL Rochester.
But all eyes Wednesday were on Miller.
“I watched him and I thought he looked good,” Ruff said. “It was a heavy workload for him. He’s done bike work, so it’s on-ice conditioning that you’re looking at.”