Hiller “Stands on His Head”

You’d be hard-pressed to say that the Ducks aren’t a team with interesting things going on. Some are not by choice, like having to figure out what to do without their captain, Ryan Getzlaf, who took a puck to the forehead in Phoenix on December 28th and sustained sinus fractures.

The word on that at first was that the injury would be evaluated and that he would be out indefinitely. A couple of days later, the fractures were said to be “nondisplaced,” and stable, and the club announced that he would not need surgery.

That was good news. The bad? That he would be out for four weeks to six. That would bring him back in late January at the earliest.

Other changes have occurred in the club’s lineup with the continued influx of players from Montreal, so here’s a quick rundown of the lineup as of now.

The club is now running a first line of Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and Matt Beleskey. Belesky appeared in his 20th game Sunday, where he has two goals and four assists.

The second line is the oldsters, Teemu Selanne, Jason Blake, and Saku Koivu. They have 74 points between them, with Blake the trailer at just 8-6-14. “One More Year” Selanne has 12-25-37, despite having played about 10 fewer games than his mates.

The third line has been augmented with the addition of Maxim Lapierre from Montreal. He slots in with Brandon McMillan and Joffrey Lupul.

The fourth line for the team is George Parros, Todd Marchant, and Dan Sexton. An odd trio that, with Sexton is a small but speedy, and you’d think he’d be wasted on this line. Sitting out with him in is Kyle Chipchura, also, Montreal fans will recall, gained from the Habs. He’s a true grit guy, with 27 games logged for the year and two assists.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not if the speed of Sexton is any clue, that line played a great shift early in the first period against the Sharks, perhaps the team’s best offensive shift in the period. They controlled the puck down low, passed it around, Parros dug it out from behind the net, and Sexton had a shot on goal.

With San Jose in town, the natural question being how important it was that they win against the Sharks? Very. Hard to exaggerate how much every game means right now. The club began the evening showing in sixth place in the West with 48 points coming into the night. The Sharks were just one point behind the Ducks in 10th. But every club from Minnesota in seventh back to San Jose had 47 points, so call it pretty much even.

Then there’s the game-in-hand situation. The Ducks have played more games than almost everyone else in the league, and certainly in their conference. At times, the differential stretched to five games, but between Anaheim and most others, it has been three or four, to the Ducks’ disadvantage. At this point, the Ducks have played 45 games (after Sunday) while the next closest team has participated in 44 contests (Chicago). The Sharks were playing in their 43rd game.

So two points, and to deny the Sharks one, was the goal, and the puck dropped in front of an almost full building augmented with a good number of people in teal sweaters.

The Ducks had a so-so first period, at least the five skaters. The goaltender, however, was a different story.

Halfway through the game, the Sharks outshot the Ducks, 20-11, but the game was scoreless, The Sharks were literally shaking their heads, as Jonas Hiller had turned them away cold. He faced 12 shots in the first period, to the Ducks’ eight, but they were dangerous. Hiller was to stymie the likes of Dan Boyle, Ryane Clowe, and Logan Couture over and over again through the first two periods.

With about six minutes to go in the first, the Sharks pressed. There was a shot and rebound, but Hiller was way out of the net on the right side, challenging.  Couture got the rebound, but the goalie again made a glove save. It was one of those that suggest that he had a force field up, and was unlikely to relinquish any ground without a struggle.

“There are moments when you feel how you feel [I felt] today, but that’s normally the first couple of saves,” Hiller said.

“After that, you bear down. So many things happen in 60 minutes, but you’ve got to stay focused. You can’t say, ‘Well, tonight’s going to be a night when they don’t score,’ because then you start losing focus. I’m always just focusing on the next shot, and not looking too far ahead. I don’t look up on the board until the end of the 60 or 65 minutes.”

In the middle stanza, Couture had two great shots on one shift, then Boyle got one, all from Hiller’s right side. After the play, Couture was bent double in disbelief. The shots at this point were nearly double in San Jose’s favor, Anaheim eight, San Jose 15.

Right after that shift, both Couture and Clowe had chances, in close to the net. Patrick Marleau shot the boards down and took a high wrister to the long side.  Hiller flashed the (righthand) catching glove and snatched it out of the air.

Then the Ducks pounced. Ryan held a puck from the left hashmarks all the way across the net to the right, and when he reached the right dot, or a place just below that, he fired a wrist shot that beat Antti Niemi.

The Ducks slowly started to even up the shot total after that, reaching to within a couple of the Sharks, but San Jose surged near the end of the period.

After two periods the Sharks had the advantage in shots, 27-20. In terms of chances, the game was all San Jose, and all Hiller. One dared not issue the “S&*%out” word for fear of jinxing the thing. But if you were a betting man, you’d say that the coach was probably getting a little bit anxious in the dressing room, urging his troops to stop playing with fire and take some of the play the other way, if for nothing else but to give their goaltender a rest.

“The games are emotional,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “These games are hard-fought games. We showed a lot of compete and a lot of battle. There are a number of things we can improve on. I thought tonight specifically in the first period we were kind of staying on the outside. We had puck possession but we didn’t attack the net with the puck. We didn’t drive the puck to the net.

“In the second, we created opportunities.”

Also of note was that the Ducks had killed two penalties by the time 40 mintes had run off the clock, both to offensive players, neither what you’d call “good.”

They did it again in the first four minutes of the third when Lubomir Visnovsky went off for holding. The Sharks had four shots on the PP, two dangerous, but nothing went past Hiller.

After the game, I asked him whether there’s a German-language equivalent for the Engish expression “standing on your head.” He laughed, then paused.  “Maybe Swiss?” I asked. The closest he could come up with was something like “playing out of your mind.”

So what’s the summation? Obviously, this team needs Getzlaf. But Ryan and Perry are holding it together pretty well with their third member. Lupul is largely invisible, maybe as a result of being on the third line, maybe because he hasn’t yet found himself after his layoff.

“We maintained puck possession, not a lot of flurries except maybe in the last minute when Jonas threw it up and it hit the shaft of the guy’s stick,” Carlyle said about the final few minutes. “That was a little hairy there for a minute.”

The Ducks have St. Louis on Wednesday, make a quick trip to Phoenix, then come back for Edmonton before going to the East coast for four games.

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