Jonas Hiller struggles in return to the net, Preds top Ducks 5-4

Jonas Hiller gave up 3 goals on the 9 shots he saw before he was pulled 11:37 into his first game back, as the Nashville Predators defeated the Anaheim Ducks by a 5-4 score. The Predators did what a team is supposed to do when they’re facing a goaltender who could be dealing with rust: they shot the puck. They shot it early and often—and Hiller did not react well. Dan Ellis came in and was serviceable in his 45 minutes, but the damage was already done.

Tonight’s game vs. the Nashville Predators was a huge matchup for the Ducks, only 24 hours after their shocking come-from-behind OT victory against the Dallas Stars. Not only was last night’s win noteworthy for the two points the Ducks posted in the standings, but it was the return to the bench for all-star netminder Jonas Hiller. He backed up Ray Emery for last night’s game, but truly returned when he got the starting nod tonight in Nashville. The game was Hiller’s first start since a February 13th shutout against the Oilers—and only his second game since the all-star break. Maybe he should have waited a few more days.

The Ducks had won four straight games before the Predators handed them the 5-4 loss. The loss keeps Anaheim in the final playoff spot with 87 points while Nashville jumped up to the 5th spot with the win (could be tied with LA by the end of the night). Every point matters at this point of the year, but the bigger story was the way Hiller would react to his return to action. With the early precincts reporting, the answer is “not well.”

Anaheim’s recent run has been good for a team that was left for dead when Hiller went down with his mysterious injury. As a stop-gap measure, GM Bob Murray went out and traded for Dan Ellis and signed unrestricted free agent Ray Emery. Almost immediately, there were a ton of jokes surrounding the Ducks as they picked up Ellis (and his problems) and Emery to support Hiller—but the joke has been on the competition. The mid-season acquisitions are a combined 9-2-1 with the Ducks. Here are the three goaltenders’ boxcar stats this season for the Ducks:

Jonas Hiller: 26-16-3 with a .925 save percentage and 2.50 GAA
Dan Ellis: 6-2-1 with a .902 save percentage and 2.70 GAA
Ray Emery: 3-0 with a .949 save percentage and 1.51 GAA

The Ducks struggled mightily in the games immediately following Hiller’s absence. They were 0-4-1 in the five games after his departure, but they’ve turned things around in the 11 games since. Ellis and Emery had combined to go 9-2 enabling the Ducks to be a little more cautious with their $18 million man. But let’s be real: the Ducks are ecstatic with Emery’s play as of late, but they were equally excited to see Hiller return to the net. Yet after tonight’s performance, the doubters have plenty of ammunition to second-guess the decision to press Hiller into action.

With tonight’s game in the rearview mirror, where will the Ducks go from here? Jonas Hiller looked awful before he was pulled, but he still only played 11 minutes tonight. Will Randy Carlyle give him another start on Saturday when Anaheim travels to Chicago? Will the coach go back to the hot hand with Ray Emery? Does he give Dan Ellis another chance to show he should stick around before he’s relegated to street clothes and the role of Third Goaltender?

We’ll find out this weekend—but with the standings as tight as they are, Carlyle and the Ducks can’t afford to miss on this decision. The right call and they’ll most likely grab a playoff spot. But the wrong call and they’ll have the entire summer to think about what they did wrong.

PHT Morning Skate: Zdeno Chara shot catches emergency goalie in a sensitive spot

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–Sean McIndoe looks at five players who became the unlikeliest first 50-goal scorers in their franchise’s history. McIndoe chose Rick MacLeish (Flyers), Rick Vaive (Maple Leafs), Vic Hadfield (Rangers), Guy Chouinard (Flames) and Mickey Redmond (Red Wings). (The Hockey News)

–A lot of people think hockey players are the toughest athletes, but Islanders forward Anders Lee is here to tell you that they aren’t tough at all. In his story for The Players’ Tribune, Lee writes about a tough, young friend, who is battling cancer. “In the seven years since he has been diagnosed, he has gone through multiple surgeries. He’s had countless radiation treatments. He’s gone through chemotherapy, immunotherapy and stem cell transplants. And he does it all with a smile on his face. So when I hear people refer to me as tough because I play hockey, I think of Fenov and kids like him.” (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Boston Bruins needed an emergency goalie for their practice yesterday, and they settled on Massachusetts state trooper Kevin Segee. Surely, it was the experience of a lifetime for him, but it didn’t come without pain. Segee was clearly shaken up after getting a Zdeno Chara in the…well, you know. (CSN New England)

–Blackhawks forwards Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Tanner Kero each had multi-point games in Wednesday’s 5-1 thumping of the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–What was the world like the last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs? Thanks to Sports Illustrated, we don’t have to wonder. In 1990, J.K. Rowling had just started writing the Harry Potter series, Donald Trump walked out of an interview with CNN because they were asking tough questions about his casino, the first known webpage was written and much, much more. (Sports Illustrated)

–Edmonton Oilers players and their significant others came together to make 400-500 bowls of homemade soup for charity. It’s pretty cool to see most of the team be involved in such a nice event, even though the onion chopping station gave some of the guys a hard time. (Edmonton Oilers on Twitter)

–Sportsnet has assembled the top hits of the week for your viewing pleasure. Hits from that Toronto, Columbus game made the video a couple of times:

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.