BOSTON – Ottawa forward Zack Smith didn’t like the way Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller leaned into him for a hit in the first period with the Senators trailing by a 2-0 score, so the gritty Sens player decided it was a good time to test out the rookie. The chances are good that Smith won’t be making that mistake again.
Aside from playing 19:15 of ice time tied for a team-high plus-3 and scoring three takeaways from the careless Senators team in a 7-2 blowout win for the Black and Gold, Miller also incapacitated Ottawa’s attempts to drum up some emotion when he beat the stuffing out of Smith. The pair dropped gloves 52 seconds after Chris Kelly had doubled Boston’s first period lead on Ottawa, and Miller pounded Smith with a flurry of right hands that left him crumpled in the corner.
It was an impressive showing against a player in Smith that’s fought 25 times during his NHL career in Ottawa, and certainly can handle himself with the gloves off. It also squashed any attempt for the Sens to gain a foothold after watching their tough centerman crumpled up in the corner like a Raggedy Andy doll.
“I think [Miller’s] fight tonight no doubt impressed a lot of people. When you look at his game and the way he was tonight—physical, gets the puck, makes the right plays. He’s just gaining more and more confidence all the time,” said Claude Julien. “He’s been a real nice find because he was a free agent.
“You’ve got to give credit to the people that work in this organization to find those kinds of players, and bring them to us. Because, right now, [Miller] a really valuable piece of our defensive corps.”
Clearly his manhandling of Smith impressed his teammates as Shawn Thornton shouted “Killer Miller” at him as he walked through the postgame Bruins dressing room.
It was the second career NHL fight for Miller and his first tilt in front of the home crowd, but the 26-year-old defenseman didn’t want to make a big production out of it after the game was over.
“It was more of just the situation in the game, I didn’t really need to prove anything,” said Miller. “The opportunity arose, and it’s part of my game.”
Another impressive feat for Miller: the way he’s played in 24 games for the Bruins will essentially guaranteeing himself an NHL gig for the next couple of years. The rookie is averaging a shade under 17 minutes of ice time per game, and rebounded from a tough game against St. Louis (minus-2 and some shaky decisions with the puck) to snap right back to the efficient, tough hombre that dishes out physical punishment to any opponent that crosses him.
Miller will need to keep it up if he hopes to protect his spot among the top six defensemen with Adam McQuaid ready for a healthy return following the Olympic break. He said he’s not thinking about it one way or the other, but there will be a strong competition for spots in the lineup with Boston now only 25 regular season games away from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I’ve said it before that I think they have a pretty good idea of what I bring to the table. This is my third year in the system now, I think they know my game,” said Miller. “I have kind of tried to find my game a little bit in the last 20 games or so. It’s still a work in progress, and I’m still trying to be better everyday at different stuff. I’m excited about it.”
If Saturday’s fight was a display of Miller’s excitement, then Boston’s opponents should be on watch for that in the last couple of months remaining this season.