TAMPA, Fla. – The only team as hot as J.T. Miller’s new team is his old one.
The National Hockey League says it’s just the second time two teams on winning streaks of at least seven games have played each other.
“There’s certain games, you know you don’t have to say a lot to your team,” Canucks coach Travis Green said after morning skate at Amalie Arena. “This is one of those; we’re playing a really good team who’s one of those teams you talk about that is trying to win a Stanley Cup. They’re on top of their game and it’s going to be an exciting game for our group.”
Nobody is talking about the Canucks winning a Stanley Cup this season, but their longest winning streak in six years has them back in a playoff position.
With nine points, including a game-winning goal, Miller has been a key player during the Canucks’ run. But he has been one of the best Vancouver players since his arrival from Tampa in a trade last June.
In 42 games, barely half the season, Miller’s 15 goals are already more than he scored all last season for the Lightning (13) and his 40 points put him on pace to blow away the career-high of 56 he amassed for the New York Rangers three seasons ago.
“Happy for Millsy,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said. “The reason he’s not with us anymore is the business side of the game. But he was a big part of our organization for the couple of years he was here. He’s a good hockey player. So you surround him with some good players and they’re doing what they expected, and (showing) why they gave up a first-round pick for him. Probably one of those trades that was a win-win for both.”
With the Lightning facing a salary-cap crisis, the Canucks surrendered first- and third-round draft picks to acquire Miller, who at age 26 came with the cost-certainty of $22 million and four years remaining on his contract.
He has spent most of the season playing with young stars Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser on the Canucks’ top line.
“He’s been relied upon more to be a guy that goes out there and leads, whether that’s vocally or from his play,” Lightning star Steve Stamkos said of his former teammate. “He works hard, he plays hard. I think he’s kind of pulling some of those younger guys along with him. You’re kind of seeing what he can do.
“For a long time he has had the package, right? He’s big, strong, a good skater, great shot. We always teased him in here that he had probably the best shot on the team, but he didn’t shoot it enough. It’s not a surprise to the guys who have played with him.”
Miller told Sportsnet before training camp began that he needed to increase his shot volume to become a 20-goal scorer again. The Ohio native already has nearly as many shots this season (105) as last (108). His shots-per-game have increased to 2.50 from 1.44.
“I’ve been given a great opportunity,” Miller said. “Obviously, I’ve got some good chemistry with Petey and Boes. They’re younger in the league, so I’m trying to work with them on that. Obviously, they have a lot of skill, which makes my job easy. We’re clicking and winning as a team. . . and that’s all that matters. Personal success usually comes when your team is working.”
The Canucks have not won eight games in a row since January 2011.
“Anytime you put a streak together, it’s exciting,” Miller said. “But I don’t think we’re worried about the streak as much; I think if we worry about ourselves and take care of our business, that (eight straight wins) has a potential of happening. It’s going to be fun game. I think everybody is looking forward to a game like this, and whoever plays a better game is going to keep their streak going.”