The Anaheim Ducks may be sitting pretty ranked No. 2 in the Pacific Division, but were it not for Jonas Hiller, their 28-year-old goalie, the forecast would be decidedly different in the ever-changing Pacific Division.
Anaheim had a rough start to the season, peppering in a few wins between a mostly unsuccessful October. The Ducks showed signs of life with a six-game win streak to start off November but followed that up with a six-game losing streak, and the rest of the season has proved to offer the same inconsistency. Now in playoff contention, the Ducks seem to have rebounded from their rocky start, thanks to the man between the pipes.
With a defense that seems to be sleeping its way through the season, Hiller has had to pick up the slack. The netminder has recorded four shutouts, a .927 save percentage and faced a league-leading 1,348 shots this season while still managing to pull out 1,250 saves — also leading the league.
In his fourth season with the Ducks, Hiller has played in 43 games (the most of any goalie this season), logged the second-most minutes on ice at 2,404 and is tied with Montreal’s Carey Price for 23 wins. It’s no wonder the Swede was recently named to the 2010-11 NHL All-Star team.
“I got some confidence in playing more games and just feeling better going out there,” Hiller told ESPN.com. “Goaltending is a lot about experience, and the more you play, the better you get. I’m having the chance to play a lot of games right now and I’m feeling comfortable with it. I definitely feel I’ve taken another step, but I still feel like I can play even better.”
Hiller proved how good he is getting in his latest performance against the Ottawa Senators. Stopping 39 of 40 shots, including three vital shootout saves, Hiller had to compensate for the lack of energy on the ice from the rest of the squad.
Another point for consideration is that the atmosphere around the Pacific Division is not what it used to be. The Sharks came back strong after a spectacular 2008-09 Presidents’ Trophy-winning season. Although that run ended in predictable fashion — with a first-round exit at the hands of the Ducks — San Jose took the division title for the 2009-10 season. Going all the way to the Western Conference Finals, the Sharks finally surrendered to the Blackhawks.
This time last year, the Dallas Stars and Ducks were, well, not doing so hot. They ended their seasons with a dismal 37-31-14 and 39-32-11, respectively. Both the Kings and Coyotes had decent years and wrapped up the season with short-lived postseason berths.
This time around, Dallas is leading the pack with 61 points, Phoenix is at No. 3 and the Kings are doing far worse than expected, falling to the bottom of the Pacific Division. The biggest surprise of the season though is the Sharks severe fall from grace. At midseason, with 51 points, they are currently out of playoff contention.
With Hiller on top of his game, the Ducks will now look to better their fifth-place ranking in the Western Conference and secure a playoff spot. The next stop on a four-game road trip will pit the Ducks against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. This will be the first time Anaheim will face their former goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere since his trade to Toronto.