Buffalo's Ryan Miller doesn't lead NHL goaltenders in games-played this season -- that would be New Jersey's Martin Brodeur -- but he's firmly entrenched in a group that plays the vast majority of his team's games.
"I like to play, and I like to feel like there's a rhythm out there," Miller said Monday before the Sabres played the Penguins at Mellon Arena, his 49th appearance in his team's 54th game.
"If you have a bad game or there's something that's off, you can get right back on the horse and try again. There's not a lot of time to sit around and think."
He would seem to be someone who puts his minutes where his mouth is. Miller entered the game ranked first in the league with a .935 save percentage and second with a 2.03 goals-against average.
There is give, though, in other areas.
"We've really changed a lot of things on how we practice and how we approach his days off, trying to give him more time," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "There are some goalies now that are carrying pretty heavy workloads. Ryan's workload has been heavy, but at the same time we've adjusted practices and adjusted what he's done between games."
Miller, 29, won't set any personal records for appearances this season. He played in 76 games in 2007-08. But he will add to his winter schedule as the projected starter for the United States in the Olympics.
He understands to carry anything close to that kind of workload, he has to manage his time between games.
"When I was younger, I probably spent too much time on the ice," he said. "In the American [Hockey] League they used to have to tell me to get off [the ice] because it was in my head that I had to go through a complete practice every time I was out there."
Now he has just got it in his head that he needs to play nearly every game.
Forward Mark Letestu was the latest player to arrive hurriedly on the EZ-Pass express. He got called up Saturday evening from Wilkes-Barre and jumped into the Penguins' lineup Sunday against Detroit.
"I went to the rink [Saturday] ready to play Manitoba, and Todd [Reirden, the Wilkes-Barre coach] told me to go home and the car would be there at 5:15," Letestu said. "It's fun, but at the same time it's kind of a guessing game."
The Penguins have been shuttling forwards back and forth for the past couple of weeks to fill in for some nagging injuries.
"It's a terrible drive," Letestu said. "It's a long, long five-hour drive. There's not a lot of highlights. You've got to make sure you bring along a book or a game or something."
Not that he was complaining. He was laughing. After all, he is on his third call-up of the season.
If Ruff wasn't a falling-down, card-carrying member of the Sidney Crosby fan club before, he became one when he watched the Penguins center in August at the Team Canada Olympic orientation camp in Calgary.
"He's a special player. I understand that just from being around him the week in Calgary," said Ruff, who will be an assistant at the Vancouver Games, while Crosby will be a marquee player.
"You gain a lot of respect for how hard he's worked and how hard he prepares."
Ruff said Crosby's improvement through his career in shootouts, faceoffs and goal-scoring proves his point.
"Here's a player that was already great that wants to improve a whole bunch of other areas," Ruff said. "I think that's a real good lesson for a lot of players -- don't be [satisfied]. If you've got young guys coming into an organization, what a guy to follow."
Tyler Myers is no longer Buffalo's teenage sensation on defense -- if only because he turned 20 Monday.
"I don't think I've had any special hockey moments on my birthday, but I'm sure I'm always going to remember this one, being in the NHL," said Myers, who entered the game with 24 assists and 31 points and led NHL rookies in blocked shots (90) and average ice time (23:27).
"It's one thing to be able to just shoot the [puck], but to have poise and be able to look people off and handle the puck back there as a defenseman, when you know you're the last guy back there on the ice, the last guy bringing the puck up the ice -- that's a poise you don't often see in a young player," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published February 2, 2010 5:00 AM