Bruins

Bruins

PHILADELPHIA – It’s been a tough ride for a tough customer in Kevan Miller over the last few weeks.

The rugged stay-at-home defenseman had a very subpar performance in the Winter Classic along with a number of his B’s teammates, and was on ice for both of the goals against in a last-minute Monday night loss to the New York Rangers that was a little tough to swallow. He’s a minus-5 in his last 10 games for the Black and Gold, and knows that it’s been a bit of an up-and-down season for him coming off major shoulder surgery toward the end of last season.

“It’s going in the right direction. I’m just trying to be consistent and strong back there,” said Miller, who has two goals and nine points in 34 games this season along with a plus-1 rating. “It’s about keeping things simple and moving the puck. When I can I’m getting into the offensive end, and if not then I’m trying to be physical.

“[This season] has been a challenge, but it’s been a welcomed challenge. Everybody wants to play more and play against top lines, so it’s something to be excited about rather than nervous about. You always want to embrace that challenge.”

It’s also important for a player like Miller to have a quick memory when a few mistakes have ended up in the back of his next in recent weeks.

“There’s going to be mistakes in games. You want to manage those, and manage them as best we can as a team,” said Miller. “You also want to learn from them, so you don’t keep repeating them. At the beginning of the season I’d have some good games and some bad games, and then I got injured. So it’s kind of been up-and-down a little bit, and I’m just trying to get back into that consistent game night in and night out.”

The 28-year-old has also been an easy target for Bruins fans this season given some of the mistakes made in the defensive zone. The simple fact is that Boston’s lack of real, proven top-4 defensemen on the roster has thrust Miller into a bigger role than he would ideally slot into if Dougie Hamilton or Johnny Boychuk were still around. Rather than playing against other team’s third and fourth lines as a bottom pairing D-man like in the past, Miller is averaging 19:52 of ice time per game while matching up against other team’s best offensive players.

There have clearly been some times where Miller’s turnovers or mistakes have been spotlighted, or ultimately exploited by some very good offensive players. The month of January has been a little rough for Miller while getting a look on a top shutdown pairing with Zdeno Chara. Just don’t expect Claude Julien to view Miller simply doing his best in a less-than-ideal situation as grounds for criticism about the undrafted D-man’s performance this year.

“Kevan Miller hasn’t been any better or any worse than anybody else,” said Julien. “I think I look at it more as our team, and our team is in the [playoff] mix right now. We suffer a little bit in the standings with those games in hand, so it’s another opportunity to take advantage of the games in hand by winning them.”

Has the notion of scratching Miller for a game or two been considered after any particularly tough games lately?

“It’s the same reason why not [scratching] Zdeno Chara?” said Julien. “Let’s just leave it at that. I’m just not getting into that . . . sorry.”

The simple fact is the Bruins need Miller’s toughness and strength in the lineup, and they need him to play above his pay grade until they can find a better alternative through the trade market. In that sense the criticism toward Miller isn’t really being directed in the proper place, and perhaps should be saved for whatever situation was created to require a consistent top-4 performance out of the third year D-man that sometimes doesn’t seem up to the task.