The Anaheim Ducks welcomed their starting goalie Jonas Hiller back to health by going out against Columbus and playing what Captain Ryan Getzlaf called “the worst period of hockey we’ve played, of the season probably.” Some howdy-do for the goalie who missed four games recently after being relieved by phenom Viktor Fasth after period one in Dallas on February 8th, when Hiller was hurt. He was dressed Saturday in Nashville in the Ducks’ 3-2 victory over the Predators, but he was not called upon to hit the ice.
The Ducks allowed the Jackets to mount an early onslaught, and by the ten-minute mark of the game, the shots were Columbus 10 and Anaheim two. Add to that a goal at just past 3 minutes of period one, and it was a start that might have had Hiller wishing he were still on the bench. Perhaps surprising was that it was versus the worst team in the league, as far as point accumulation goes. Columbus came into the game last in the NHL, Anaheim second.
Other numbers also showed the disparity between the two teams. Anaheim had the 9th-rated power play, Columbus the 26th. In goals for, Anaheim was fifth coming in, Columbus 27th. In goals against, the Ducks were tied for 18th, whereas Columbus was 25th. Dismal indeed. But given the sniff of opportunity, the Blue Jackets played like an NHL squad.
Hiller deflected criticism of the Ducks’ bad start in the locker room after the game. “I felt pretty good. I was excited to be back in; I wanted to play as good as I can.”
His captain praised him for his efforts, saying, “Hillsy comes out and makes a couple of unbelievable saves to start the game off. We could easily have been down a couple” in the period. That’s an understatement.
Hiller’s heroics in the first period included a save that he made with his back turned to the opposing player at the left side of the net. When asked about it, he said, “When [the Columbus player] got the rebound, I just tried to put as much body in front of him as possible, and I mean, I thought I was working hard. If you do that, you’re going to get those bounces. You just try to protect as much of the net as possible. He hit me in the elbow or whatever. Those kind of things make you feel good out there, because you feel like, ‘Tonight, I get the bounces. I can feel the puck.’”
The Ducks got their act together as period one wound on. They began an offensive strategy of firing long shots at Columbus’s Bobrovsky, with shots 3-6 being of that variety. Nothing went in, but they were making a point–we get that we’re in a game here. They ended up scoring two goals, 21 seconds apart, in the last fourth of the period.
The first goal was on the power play, with Peter Holland, a first-round pick of the team in 2009, getting the goal, his second NHL marker. He has played in four games thus far this year, and on this night, aside from his power play duties, was on the fourth line with Patrick Maroon and Kyle Palmieri. It’s a combination which has been together in the minors for two years.
His goal was a power play tally, but in odd circumstances. He was whistled off for interference at 13:50, on a play that he had no choice but to take a penalty. Defenseman Sbisa had pinched too far into the Columbus zone and missed a puck, which gave the Blue Jackets a 2-on-1. Holland took the penalty tieing up a guy down the slot coming back into his own end.
His goal was scored when Bobby Ryan saw him coming out of the box and fed a long pass. He had a clear breakaway and shot to the long side, the left side, and put the puck under the goalie’s arm.
The follow-up, by Getzlaf 21 seconds later, was the result of the Getzlaf-Perry-Beleskey line being pests in the Columbus zone. The puck was turned over because Getzlaf forced the Columbus player to make a mistake. He then went to the net, and put the puck under and around the goalie, moving from the top of the crease outward. It sounds odd, and lots of plays in this game were. Some nights, things simply happen this way.
Neither team scored in period two, and only 12 shots were taken, combined. If there was anything worthy of gossip in the second, it was that Boudreau moved Winnik up from line three to two, to play with Selanne and Bonino, and he moved Bobby Ryan down to play with Cogliano and Koivu.
Nearly midway through period three, Cory Perry scored on the power play, and Columbus answered with 12 minutes gone to threaten at 3-2. The goal came on a delayed penalty call, though the Columbus goalie took so long to recognize it that his team did not get the advantage. But then Anaheim’s defense and goaltending took charge. Of course, in the case of the goalie, one should probably say, “took charge again,” given Hiller’s work in period one.
Toward the end of the game, with Cory Perry in the penalty box for holding at 19:26, the Ducks again rallied to protect their lead. Saku Koivu, notably, laid out to block a shot off the foot with 4 seconds left, something Getzlaf commended after the game.
The defense also enacted their heroics, particularly Beauchemin. In the last thirty seconds, Columbus challenged, and Beauchemin dove into the crease, backwards to the play, and put his arms down, shoveling a puck out of harm’s way. RJ Umberger was looking at a wide open side of the net had he not done this. Beauchemin commented after, “At the end, I just kind of pushed on it, hoping the guy wouldn’t get a good shot. We got it done. It was one of those tough games when you come back from a road trip.”
Hiller said, “It has been like that since the beginning of the year. People are working hard, even when they’re not feeling their best or things are not going their way. Still, they’re able to work hard. That’s what everybody’s doing right now. Even when we don’t play our best games, we still find a way.” He added that it’s fine to play well as an individual, but when the team wins, that feels better.
So the Ducks won 3-2. It’s not accurate to say that they “escaped” with a 3-2 win, because after going down 3-1, Columbus wasn’t really in the game. In fact, they were on their heels as soon as the Ducks tied it at ones. Anaheim fans, meanwhile, did a pretty good job of encouraging the home squad. The announced attendance was 14,713. Full up is 17,117. But the place looked like it had more than it sometimes does when 14k-plus is announced. The cheap seats, those up high, were mostly full.
The team now has zero games for five days, with their next the Avs in California on the 24th. The coach talked about the layoff after the game. “They’ll take a couple of days off, and I told them, it’s like a whole new season. Training camp wasn’t that long. There’s going to be three good days, real good days of practice, because we might not get another day of practice until the end of March, in reality if you look at the schedule. So they have to be three really good hard days of practice to keep our conditioning, and just to go over everything again that we have put [in place]”.
It’s not a miracle that the Ducks beat Columbus. It might have been had things gone the other way. Either way, nothing of either the weak start or the late heroics will be remembered. The two points will, though.
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