Under Pressure: Jonas Hiller

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Anaheim Ducks we picked… goaltender Jonas Hiller.

To be sure, Hiller hasn’t suffered a fall from grace, but his job is on the line all the same. When he struggled early in the 2013 campaign, Viktor Fasth rose to the occasion and while Hiller eventually bounced back, in the interim Fasth went from being a relative unknown to a viable starter.

Fasth is kicking off a two-year contract that comes with an affordable $2.9 million annual cap hit. On top of that, the Ducks have a couple strong goaltending prospects in John Gibson and Igor Bobkov. All three of those netminders are still question marks, but if Fasth in particular doesn’t regress this season, then Hiller will be in a very difficult position going forward.

This is a contract year for Hiller and presumably the 31-year-old netminder will be seeking a lucrative long-term deal. That won’t happen in Anaheim unless he can assert that the Ducks need him despite their other options.

The best way for Hiller to accomplish that would be to step up in the playoffs. So far, he’s only participated in 20 postseason contests and has never led the team past the second round. That’s by no means solely or even primarily his fault, but by the same token, it will be much harder for the Ducks to rationalize moving past him if he pulls off some timely heroics.

They do have the pieces around him to make a respectable run this season, although they are by no means a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. They need players to find another level for that to happen and Hiller’s one of them.

Even if he isn’t able to pull that off, it’s still vital for him to compete for time with Fasth and find a way to be at the very least solid. The free agent market isn’t always kind to goaltenders and if Hiller has to enter it, he’ll want to do so as a clear-cut starter. This would be a horrible year for him to struggle as far as his long-term career goals are concerned.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Ducks take control of second in Pacific after edging Oilers

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Connor McDavid was fantastic on Wednesday, but the Anaheim Ducks overcame his strong showing for a significant win in the Pacific.

McDavid scored a goal and two assists, yet Ryan Getzlaf was right there with him with three assists, helping the Ducks win 4-3.

With that, Anaheim is clearly ahead of Edmonton for second in the Pacific. The Ducks would hold home-ice over the Oilers if the playoffs began today, and better yet for them, a division title isn’t out of the question:

1. Sharks – 91 points in 73 games played
2. Ducks – 89 points in 73 GP
3. Oilers – 87 points in 73 GP
4. Flames – 86 points in 73 GP

As you can see, the Oilers aren’t exactly far ahead of the Flames for third, either.

Going forward, the Oilers have an interesting schedule: a mix of games against cellar dwellers (two apiece against the Canucks and Avalanche) plus two games apiece versus the Kings and Sharks.

The Ducks’ schedule includes two matches against the Flames, one against the Kings and one more match at Edmonton on April 1.

Long story short, the jockeying for position is far from over, but this was a pretty significant win for the Ducks.

Video: Connor McDavid shows off speed and skill (again)

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Connor McDavid‘s 26th goal of 2016-17 was a lot like many others: an impressive display of skill and speed. He didn’t blaze past the Anaheim Ducks like has against opponents on other occasions, but his rare wheels still came in handy.

Maybe more than sheer speed, this tally is a reminder that McDavid could do impressive things while losing little or no momentum. It’s one thing to have straight-line speed, but he has the hands and hockey IQ to take advantage of his swift skating.

McDavid already has two points in this one, pushing him to 84 points. He also extended his point streak to five games (three goals, six assists if he stays at one of each on Wednesday).

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.