Jonas Hiller

Jonas Hiller, Teemu Selanne look sharp in Ducks preseason debuts

During the off-season, the Anaheim Ducks’ two biggest wild cards have been Jonas Hiller’s health and Teemu Selanne’s retirement decision. While the Finnish Flash decided to come back for one more season, the Swiss stopper still needs to back up his claims that he’s healthy.

After one admittedly inconsequential preseason game, it seems like the verdict is: “So far, so good.”

Selanne assisted on a Corey Perry power-play goal while Hiller stopped all of the 21 shots he faced in two period of action as the Ducks beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Saturday night. Vancouver’s only tally came against former Edmonton Oilers netminder Jeff Deslauriers.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle came away impressed with Hiller’s first post-vertigo performance.

“He’s been seeing the puck,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said in a post-game interview with CBC. ”There’s been a lot made and there should be about his ailments that happened at the All-Star break last year. It really took him a long time to get back.

“What we did was just try to monitor it. He worked hard during the summer. He attended goaltending clinics in Switzerland, he was on the ice for over a month and a half there. He came back to Anaheim and he loked sharp and he has had no ill effects.”

A healthy Hiller raises the Ducks’ collective ceiling significantly

While the team made some minor adjustments to its defense, it’s possible that it took a slight step back by replacing retired penalty killing center Todd Marchant with historically deficient defensive pivot Andrew Cogliano. Some might also think that trading hard-hitting blueliner Andy Sutton for hard-shooting defenseman Kurtis Foster might be a downgrade, at least in the Ducks’ own end.

Those are under-the-radar issues, but Hiller’s puck-stopping skills were recognized last season with his first career All Star appearance. His career save percentage is .921, a stellar testament to the difference he makes behind an increasingly shaky defense. Hiller posted a .924 mark in an injury-shortened 2010-11. He’s a serious difference-maker who can camouflage a lot of weaknesses.

The Ducks might not run away with the Pacific Division with their formula of top-heavy offense and Hiller masking their defensive problems, but it’s a combination that has a strong chance of working well enough to earn a playoff spot. We’ll definitely keep an eye on Hiller’s health through the preseason and beyond, though, because vertigo-like symptoms are not exactly a common hockey injury.

Playoff hopes take a jolt: Coyotes crush Bishop and the Bolts

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.

In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.

This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.

Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

The perfect remedy, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.

Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.

The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.

There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.

A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.

Hartnell’s winner halts Hurricanes comeback attempt

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 24:  Scott Hartnell #43 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on October 24, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Blue Jackets defeated the Avalanche 4-3.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game midway through the third period to push the Columbus Blue Jackets over the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Saturday night.

Hartnell scored in the first period and got the tiebreaker in the third, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a terrible second period to beat the Hurricanes for the second time this week. Carolina has lost three straight.

Markus Hannikainen also scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky had 35 saves for Columbus.

Sebastian Aho and Justin Faulk scored in the second period for Carolina. Michael Leighton, recalled from Charlotte of the AHL on Thursday, started in place of Cam Ward and stopped 17 shots.

Hannikainen poked in the first goal for Columbus 4:49 into the game off a rebound in front of Carolina’s net. The shot through traffic resulted in the first goal and point of the 23-year-old rookie’s NHL career.

About 10 minutes later, Hartnell got a breakaway and slammed a slap shot past Leighton’s glove from just inside the blue line to put Columbus up 2-0 at the first break.

“I just tried to bury my head and shoot as hard as I could,” Hartnell said.

The second period belonged to the Hurricanes.

Carolina got the first one back on a power play 9:05 in when Aho picked up the loose puck off Jaccob Slavin‘s blocked slap shot and found the net from eight feet out.

Justin Faulk tied it at 2 when he carried the puck through the neutral zone and snapped off a shot from the right circle that rattled off the bar and in with 4:33 left. Carolina outshot Columbus 9-2 in the period, and Blue Jackets players went to the penalty box four times.

Hartnell got the winner when he took a pass from Sam Gagner and knocked it in from 13 feet with 9:35 left.

Carolina pulled the goalie with 2:32 left but couldn’t tie it.

Video: The Sabres weren’t happy with Emelin after dangerous hit on Moulson

1 Comment

Alexei Emelin has once again drawn the ire of opposing players.

This time, it was the Buffalo Sabres responding to a hit thrown by Emelin, who caught Matt Moulson with a dangerous hit from behind into the boards during the second period of their game on Saturday.

A massive scrum ensued right over top of Emelin and Moulson along the boards.

Emelin, who has a history of massive and questionable hits throughout his career (See here, here and here for examples) was given a minor penalty for boarding on the play.

Video: Simmonds drops the gloves with Wood

2 Comments

Wayne Simmonds is not only a productive power forward, but he’s one tough customer.

He showed that again Saturday, dropping the gloves with Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils during the first period.

The fight occurred right after Wood drove Radko Gudas hard into the boards on the forecheck. The scrap didn’t last long, however, with Simmonds landing a few shots and then taking the Devils forward to the ice.

Simmonds was assessed an extra roughing minor.