Ryan Miller arrived in Buffalo by way of Michigan State, home to one of the nation's better college hockey programs.
But the on-ice training he received there aside, Miller credits conversations with Tom Izzo, coach of the Spartans' basketball team, with helping him to develop into a high-quality goaltender.
"Tom Izzo helped me a lot with expectations," he said. "We sat down in his office from time to time on my way into the rink. Basketball was [based] next door, and I'd just stop in."
Miller, 26, enters the Sabres' game against the Penguins at 7:38 p.m. today at Mellon Arena with a 32-15-4 record, 2.72 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.
He played in the NHL All-Star Game in January and is the first goalie since Evgeni Nabokov of San Jose to record 30 victories as a rookie, then do it again the following season. Miller also is the first Sabres goalie to win 30 in consecutive seasons since Dominik Hasek did it in 1997-98 and 1998-99.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said he believes Miller is "building on last year," and Miller doesn't disagree.
"It's been a continuation," he said. "I don't think I've changed too much. I've obviously learned some stuff, being a fifth-year pro."
Other stuff, he apparently picked up before he ever left East Lansing.
Laraque could sit
Penguins right winger Georges Laraque is expected to sit out tonight's game because of back spasms.
Laraque did not practice yesterday, and assistant coach Andre Savard was not optimistic about him being ready to face the Sabres.
"It doesn't look like it, unless he recovers quick," Savard said. "He wouldn't have played [yesterday], for sure."
Drive for 4th place
Overtaking Ottawa for fourth place in the Eastern Conference remains a viable objective for the Penguins, considering they trail the Senators by just two points and have a game in hand.
It would be significant, too, because the team that finishes fourth will have home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. Nonetheless, defenseman Brooks Orpik said the Penguins have not made it a specific goal.
"We wouldn't reject it, but it's not something we've really talked about or focused on," he said. "From the start of the year, just making the playoffs was one of our goals.
"If we just keep concentrating on that, everything else will take care of itself. If that does happen, great."
After losing consecutive games to New Jersey and Minnesota, both of whose success is predicated on stingy team defense, some in Buffalo believe the Sabres will benefit from playing a club like the Penguins, who put a little more emphasis on offense.
Certainly, the Sabres' speed and skills make scoring goals their forte, and Ruff made no apologies for it before his team's most recent game against the Penguins.
"We're not one of those lock-it-down-real-tight defensive teams," he said. "We'll trade you some rushes. Part of our strength is our transition game, which comes from letting these guys be creative."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien missed practice yesterday while attending his father's funeral in Montreal, but was scheduled to return to Pittsburgh last night and rejoin the team today. ... Fourteen of the Penguins' past 15 games have been decided by one goal, including three that went to overtime and six that ended in a shootout. ... The Sabres are 8-1 on Tuesdays. ... Buffalo and Calgary are the only teams that haven't been shut out this season. ... Sabres center Tim Connolly's return from a severe concussion he got in the playoffs last season suffered a major setback when he got a stress fracture below his right knee. "He was coming along nice," Ruff told the Buffalo News. "This has definitely slowed that [process] down."David Duprey, Associated Press
The Sabers' Ryan Miller credits Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo with helping him to become a high-quality goaltender.
Click photo for larger image.
Matchup: Buffalo Sabres at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
TV, radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ryan Miller for Sabres.
Penguins: Are 1-1 against Sabres, with each team earning a 4-2 victory in Buffalo. ... C Maxime Talbot doesn't have a goal in 10 games. ... Are 10-3-2 in games tied at second intermission.
Sabres: Have won past three games at Mellon Arena, two in overtime. ... C Chris Drury has scored 16 of his 33 goals on power play. ... Are outscoring opponents, 103-65, in second period.
Hidden stat: Sabres are 3-1 when allowing three or more power-play goals.