A good problem for the Sabres: When Should Lindy Ruff Play Patrick Lalime?

Matthew YoungContributor IJanuary 30, 2010

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 29:  Patrick Lalime #40 of the Buffalo Sabres makes a save during the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at HSBC Arena on December 29, 2009 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Well, they're back.

January is just about over, and the Sabres have rebounded from their lackluster road trip with two straight wins over Eastern Conference opponents.

Ryan Miller, predictably, has been a force in both of those games. After allowing 10 goals over the course of just under seven games, Miller has allowed only one each in the two games since returning to Buffalo.

He has been in top form all season long, no question. But with the Olympics coming up and Miller likely to start for the U.S. and play quite a few games for them, the question of fatigue has got to be creeping up in the mind of Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff.

Miller has played in every game over the last two weeks, save for the first few minutes of the game against the Anaheim (no longer mighty) Ducks. A game in which Patrick Lalime coughed up four goals in the amount of time it takes for me to eat a tuna sandwich.

Now, the Sabres are in an unusual position in terms of points. As of this writing they are seven points clear of Ottawa in the Northeast Division with three games in hand.

It seems like a good position for Ruff to play Lalime in a few games to rest Miller, both for the Olympic break a month from now for the playoffs.

However, they are also merely one point behind the boring-but-good New Jersey Devils for second place in the conference.

That is nothing to sneeze at. Playoff position is everything. The higher seed the Sabres get, the better chance they have at making a long run in the postseason. That much is obvious. But is it worth possibly overextending your best asset, a Vezina-contending Miller?

I know it sounds like I'm waffling here, but the bottom line is balance. Ruff needs to find games where he can give Miller a rest while showing that he has faith that Lalime can handle the ship while No. 30 is away.

Lalime, meanwhile, needs to manage the game much like a rookie quarterback does. He has shown this year that he can do so quite well. He might not make highlight-reel saves, but more often than not this year he has shown up in big spots, particularly during that three-goal comeback earlier this month against Pittsburgh.

He just needs to minimize performances like the clunker in Anaheim and the Sabres should be able to hit the playoffs in a good spot with a healthy and hopefully rested number one goaltender.

These next few weeks before the Olympic break should be interesting. When will Lalime play? How will he hold up? We'll find out soon enough.