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.