|Kevan Miller is the exception to the Zdeno Chara rule||01.06.16 at 11:16 pm ET|
If and when Claude Julien writes a book on how to make still-developing defensemen good, Zdeno Chara will write the foreword, which will consist of “Play them with me,” and then the book will be over.
Chara has had some great partners over the years with the Bruins — Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton come to mind — but it’s no secret that Julien can take any player who is otherwise OK and make him very good by skating him with Chara. The reason, quite simply, is because Chara is such a dominant player that skating with him more than makes up for the difficult competition that comes with playing on a top pairing.
This has been the case for a number of players over the years. Among them: Zach Trotman, Torey Krug and Steven Kampfer.
Not Kevan Miller.
Miller, mysteriously, is the exception to this rule.
“But Deej!” you say. “That just means that Kevan Miller stinks!”
Not necessarily, and that’s rude. The 28-year-old Miller, who is still just 119 games into his NHL career, is an OK third-pairing defenseman, as some of the aforementioned names were when they were put on pairings with Chara. Yet instead of getting better when playing with Chara, this season has suggested that Miller gets worse when paired with the (somehow only) one-time Norris winner.
Miller’s most common partner this season has been Torey Krug, with whom he’s played 160:24 in 5-on-5. His next most-common partner has been Chara, with whom he’s played 120:22 of 5-on-5 time. Playing with Krug often draws so-so competition — Krug has had the fifth-toughest quality of competition among Bruins defensemen this season, using time on ice of competition as a barometer — whereas playing with Chara draws the other team’s best players, as evidenced by Chara having the hardest quality of competition.
Miller has been fine with Krug. The Bruins have outscored opponents when the two have played together — 2.62 goals for per 60; 1.12 goals against per 60 for a goals for percentage of 70. When Chara and Miller are together, the Bruins are outscored — 2.49 goals for per 60 and 4.49 goals against per 60, making for a rather horrifying 35.7 goals for percentage.
That’s the comparison of Miller with Chara versus Miller with Krug. The numbers of Miller simply with and without Chara are even more telling:
“But Deej!” you say. “Maybe Miller’s worse with Chara than players in seasons past because Chara has gotten worse! Chara just looks slower out there!”
No. Chara is still having the Chara effect on his partners. Including Kevan Miller, five defensemen have played at least 20 minutes of 5-on-5 with Chara this season. The four not named Kevan Miller all have better numbers with Chara than without him. All four — Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg, Colin Miller and Zach Trotman — have better goals for percentages with Chara, while Trotman’s minor bump in Corsi For percentage without Chara (48.8 with him, 49.0 without him) is the only trace of a player’s possession numbers not dipping when not with Chara.
Whether it’s the quality of competition that comes with skating as Chara’s partner or the fact that the duo lacks mobility, the Chara-Kevan Miller pairing has not been good. While that’s not reason enough to write off Miller altogether, it’s reason enough for Julien to separate the pairing, which he used to begin Tuesday night’s game against the Capitals.
If McQuaid is to miss any stretch of time, the numbers indicate that Julien would be wise to not play Miller to Chara’s right, where McQuaid has often played this season. The Bruins have other options — Trotman, Colin Miller — and Kevan Miller figures to be better off with Krug.
|Lineup questions await Bruins upon Kevan Miller’s return||11.29.15 at 5:27 pm ET|
Kevan Miller is practicing with the Bruins and Max Talbot has reportedly been placed on waivers again to open up a roster spot, so it shouldn’t be long before Miller is cleared to return from a concussion that’s kept him out of the last five games. The question will be whether a spot in the lineup will be waiting for him.
Claude Julien won’t have an easy time deciding that in the coming days. The B’s have won every game since Miller went down, but Julien displayed unwavering faith in the 28-year-old defenseman leading up to Miller’s injury. Furthermore, the Bruins are still a work in progress in their own zone, meaning the B’s should not have their six blueliners set in stone at this point.
If Miller were to re-enter the lineup, he would likely do so at the expense of a fellow righty in either Zach Trotman or Colin Miller. The latter has struggled in his own zone, with unforced icings costing the Bruins at points, but the pros of Colin Miller’s offensive game (he factored heavily into both the game-tying and game-winning goals last week in Detroit) might outweigh the cons of his defensive game in the eyes of Bruins coaches.
Julien said the Bruins are taking it day-to-day with Kevan Miller. Asked if Miller would be a sure-thing to play once he’s ready, Julien scoffed.
“Honestly, which coach is going to tell you three days before whether this guy’s a lock [to play]?” Julien asked. “I think it’s a matter of looking at the situation when it comes to that. I don’t think anybody should be a lock in. I think you’ve got your key players that you know are there every night, but there’s also some competition there. Our group back there has done a pretty decent job, so before I make that decision I’ll certainly take a little bit more time to think about it.”
Miller became something of a scapegoat for fans unhappy with the Bruins’ mediocre start to the season. Difficulty closing gaps allowed shooters too much space, resulting in goals against. Given that Miller does not bring much offensively, the bruising defender’s issues in his own zone led to questions of whether he was worth keeping in the lineup if he wasn’t contributing defensively.
One would assume that the penalty kill was a big reason as to why Miller kept his spot earlier in the season. With the B’s missing Dennis Seidenberg for the first 14 games of the season, Miller was relied on heavily for big minutes on the PK. Miller is second to only Zdeno Chara with 3:21 of shorthanded time on ice per game; he and Chara (3:45 shorthanded TOI per night) are the only Bruins to average three minutes or more on the penalty kill this season.
Yet the Bruins haven’t really missed Miller on the PK since he went out of the lineup. The Bruins, who ranked worst in the NHL in penalty kill efficiency at the time that Miller went out of the lineup, have killed off 15 of their opponents’ 16 power plays over the last five games.
“Seids is in there, Zee is in there,” Julien said after Friday’s win. “Those two guys on the left side have been good. Trots has been pretty good on the right and [Adam] McQuaid. I thought we had enough bodies for the penalty kill to do their job and they’ve proven us right so far.”
The Bruins next play on Wednesday, when they’ll face the lowly Oilers in Edmonton. The Bruins are hardly desperate to get Miller back, but then again the revolving door on defense has yet to slow for the B’s this season. They might be wise to stick with the kids they’ve got in there for now.
|Kevan Miller misses Bruins practice with upper-body injury||11.18.15 at 11:15 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Kevan Miller was missing from Wednesday’s practice as the Bruins looked to regroup from a disappointing 5-4 loss to the Sharks on Tuesday.
Miller, who has played in every game this season, went to the trainers’ room during the third period of Tuesday’s game and did not play the final 10:44.
“Right now, all I can tell you is he’s got an upper-body injury,” Claude Julien said after the practice. “I don’t know the details of what’s come up with the assessment. We’ll try and give you guys some more when we do. Right now I don’t have more than to tell you it’s upper-body.”
With the exception of David Pastrnak, who remains out with a foot injury and is still on crutches, all other players were on the ice for Wednesday’s practice. Julien stuck with the line of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and Jimmy Hayes, shuffled the third line and left the other two the same as they’ve been in recent games. The lines and defensive pairings Wednesday were as follows:
The 8-8-1 Bruins will host the Wild Wednesday at TD Garden.
|Kevan Miller: ‘I need to be better’||11.13.15 at 1:26 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Call it being overused, call it a player still finding his footing after missing half of last season, but Kevan Miller hasn’t gotten off to the start he’d hoped for this season.
Miller has played in each of the Bruins’ first 15 games after missing the last 26 games of last season due to shoulder surgery. Miller, whose shoulder also kept him out for a stretch earlier in the season, hasn’t had a particularly pleasant return to game action. Used frequently as Zdeno Chara‘s partner, the 27-year-old has struggled both with the puck and without it, occasionally leaving shooters too much space as they enter the offensive zone. Thursday night’s game saw him turn in a costly turnover when he coughed the puck up in the defensive zone, leading to a Colorado goal.
“It’s a work in progress. You want to get better as you go,” Miller said of his start to the season. “This is my third year, but this is 100-something games. I’m trying to get better every game. There’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs and we’re going to learn from that, but you want to make sure you’re consistent every night. I need to be better.”
Undoubtedly factoring into Miller’s struggles is the fact that he’s been used in a bigger role this season, something that perhaps could change once Dennis Seidenberg is up to speed. Miller has been given 20:21 of ice time per night, up over two minutes from last season’s 18:02 average.
Miller has also had much tougher zone starts than in either of his previous two seasons, as shown in this war-on-ice usage chart showing each of Miller’s three NHL seasons.
When asked about Miller, Claude Julien‘s words sounded like they could have been applied to many of his defensemen, as Miller is certainly not alone in making costly errors.
“Right now, it’s not about how much leeway we give players,” he said. “It’s about how accountable you want to be as a player. You’ve got to work through those kind of things. You’ve got to minimize it. If you’ve been injured, and you don’t think your game is at its best, let’s keep it simple. Let’s do the right things here and try and make the right decisions.
“Again, it’s puck management. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be a simple game, and a lot of times, less is more. That’s what we have to understand.”
Now that Seidenberg is back in the lineup, the Bruins could view Miller as a potential option to spent the occasional game in the press box. Joe Morrow has been a healthy scratch the last three games, while Zach Trotman has sat in 12 of 15 games this season.
Miller still provides value, however, as he can kill penalties and be used on the left side in a pinch. He’ll just need better games ahead of him if he wants to solidify his spot.
|Bruins’ defense shuffle led to rare move from Claude Julien in recent games||11.12.15 at 12:56 pm ET|
Claude Julien has been trying some new things with his lineup this season. He’s even separated Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the Bruins’ current equivalent of Hall & Oates (assuming you’re smart and don’t underrate John Oates).
On defense, Julien’s experimenting has led to an unusual occurrence recently: a righty playing the left side. That’s very uncommon in the NHL, but when Julien opted to take left Joe Morrow out of the lineup for righty Zach Trotman, the result was a righty (Kevan Miller) having to play his off-side. That will change once Dennis Seidenberg returns to the lineup (as early as Thursday evening).
The reasoning behind why righties typically don’t play the left side is simple: They never really learned to do it because they’ve never had to. With left-shot D outnumbering them, it’s so rare that a team would have more righties than lefties. As such, it’s common for lefties to have experience playing the right side — Dennis Seidenberg and Torey Krug play both sides well — but very uncommon for a righty to be comfortable over on the left.
“To me, it would be common if some of those guys really felt comfortable on those sides,’ Julien said this week. “We’ve seen Dennis Seidenberg in the past play the right side and it doesn’t bother him to play his off-side. Some players are capable of doing that. Some others aren’t that comfortable because they’ve never done it before. We’re having to make some decisions here. There’s guys that are saying, ‘I haven’t really done it but I’m willing to give it a shot,’ and I think we’ve seen enough from some of those guys to let them go there and do that job.”
Miller, one of four righties in Boston’s seven-man group, played the left side at times in college and in Providence due to lefties being injured at various points. Though he noted he’s had the odd even-strength shift here and there on the left side over the last few years — never many at a time — he said it took adjusting when playing the last couple games.
“There’s advantages and disadvantages,” he said. “Obviously on offensive zone faceoffs, you have certain one-timers out there and then you see different plays better sometimes, but obviously worse with others. You kind of just have to manage your game.”
Seidenberg appears close to returning, with Julien saying he’s a game-time decision for Thursday’s game against the Avalanche. Should both Seidenberg and Krug (also a game-time decision after taking Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s practices off) play, Miller will be free to return to the right side, assuming he stays in the lineup. Thursday’s morning skate saw Miller play on the right side of a pairing with Krug.
While he’s obviously more comfortable on the right side, he hopes the Bruins won’t hesitate to use him on the left if need be in the future.
“I feel like everybody would probably prefer to be on their strong side, but anything you can do to help the team, you’re going to do it,’ he said. ‘If they ask me to do it, then I’m happy to do it.”
|Dennis Seidenberg returns to practice, Kevan Miller and Joonas Kemppainen to make trip||10.29.15 at 10:23 am ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins saw one defenseman return and another one miss practice at Ristuccia Arena. Dennis Seidenberg participated in his first practice of the season, while Kevan Miller was absent after suffering an injury Tuesday against the Coyotes.
Also absent from practice was Joonas Kemppainen, who missed a couple of shifts Tuesday as well. David Pastrnak, who missed the last 8:48 of the game after taking a shot off the foot, participated fully in Thursday’s practice. According to Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald, Miller skated briefly before practice.
Claude Julien said after practice that Miller and Kemppainen will make the trip to Florida for this weekend’s games. Both are game-time decisions for Friday’s game, though Julien said he expects both to play.
“Today was probably more maintenance and allowing him to be better for tomorrow,” Julien said of Miller, adding that such was also the case for Kemppainen.
The forward lines in practice were as follows:
Should Miller and Kemppainen both play, the Bruins’ lineup would figure to be unchanged from Tuesday’s win over the Coyotes, which saw Zach Trotman and Zac Rinaldo as the healthy scratches. Trotman, who has been a healthy scratch for the last seven games, would play should Miller not be able to go.
Seidenberg has been out since training camp after getting back surgery on Sept. 24. He has been skating since last Monday, but Thursday marked his first time on the ice with teammates since the surgery.
“For him, it was more to get him a little bit more encouraged by being with other players out there,” Julien said. “He just did the line drills and the puck-moving part of it. He still has a ways to go; he definitely can’t take any contact, but just the fact that he’s able to be out there with us is definitely encouraging for him.”
|Claude Julien says Kevan Miller, David Pastrnak injuries aren’t serious||10.27.15 at 10:44 pm ET|
Miller went into the boards awkwardly on a hook from Tobias Rieder in the second period. He left the game for about 10 minutes, returned for two more shifts and then did not play the third period. Pastrnak continued to play after taking a shot off the foot early in the third period but missed the final 8:48 of the game.
Julien said that Miller, Pastrnak and Joonas Kemppainen — who missed a couple of shifts in the third period — were kept out because the game was out of hand and the team wanted to play it safe.
“We took [Miller] out more as precaution because of the score,” Julien said. “Same thing with Kemppainen; [he] left the bench for a while came back and Pastrnak got hit with a shot. At that stage, we didn’t want to risk anything more that we needed to so we sent those guys to the room.”