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.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
Getty Images
1 Comment

With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 9.02.42 PM
4 Comments

A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

3 Comments

The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

Leave a comment

There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”