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Jonas Hiller struggles in return to the net, Preds top Ducks 5-4

Mar 25, 2011, 1:00 AM EDT

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Jonas Hiller gave up 3 goals on the 9 shots he saw before he was pulled 11:37 into his first game back, as the Nashville Predators defeated the Anaheim Ducks by a 5-4 score. The Predators did what a team is supposed to do when they’re facing a goaltender who could be dealing with rust: they shot the puck. They shot it early and often—and Hiller did not react well. Dan Ellis came in and was serviceable in his 45 minutes, but the damage was already done.

Tonight’s game vs. the Nashville Predators was a huge matchup for the Ducks, only 24 hours after their shocking come-from-behind OT victory against the Dallas Stars. Not only was last night’s win noteworthy for the two points the Ducks posted in the standings, but it was the return to the bench for all-star netminder Jonas Hiller. He backed up Ray Emery for last night’s game, but truly returned when he got the starting nod tonight in Nashville. The game was Hiller’s first start since a February 13th shutout against the Oilers—and only his second game since the all-star break. Maybe he should have waited a few more days.

The Ducks had won four straight games before the Predators handed them the 5-4 loss. The loss keeps Anaheim in the final playoff spot with 87 points while Nashville jumped up to the 5th spot with the win (could be tied with LA by the end of the night). Every point matters at this point of the year, but the bigger story was the way Hiller would react to his return to action. With the early precincts reporting, the answer is “not well.”

Anaheim’s recent run has been good for a team that was left for dead when Hiller went down with his mysterious injury. As a stop-gap measure, GM Bob Murray went out and traded for Dan Ellis and signed unrestricted free agent Ray Emery. Almost immediately, there were a ton of jokes surrounding the Ducks as they picked up Ellis (and his problems) and Emery to support Hiller—but the joke has been on the competition. The mid-season acquisitions are a combined 9-2-1 with the Ducks. Here are the three goaltenders’ boxcar stats this season for the Ducks:

Jonas Hiller: 26-16-3 with a .925 save percentage and 2.50 GAA
Dan Ellis: 6-2-1 with a .902 save percentage and 2.70 GAA
Ray Emery: 3-0 with a .949 save percentage and 1.51 GAA

The Ducks struggled mightily in the games immediately following Hiller’s absence. They were 0-4-1 in the five games after his departure, but they’ve turned things around in the 11 games since. Ellis and Emery had combined to go 9-2 enabling the Ducks to be a little more cautious with their $18 million man. But let’s be real: the Ducks are ecstatic with Emery’s play as of late, but they were equally excited to see Hiller return to the net. Yet after tonight’s performance, the doubters have plenty of ammunition to second-guess the decision to press Hiller into action.

With tonight’s game in the rearview mirror, where will the Ducks go from here? Jonas Hiller looked awful before he was pulled, but he still only played 11 minutes tonight. Will Randy Carlyle give him another start on Saturday when Anaheim travels to Chicago? Will the coach go back to the hot hand with Ray Emery? Does he give Dan Ellis another chance to show he should stick around before he’s relegated to street clothes and the role of Third Goaltender?

We’ll find out this weekend—but with the standings as tight as they are, Carlyle and the Ducks can’t afford to miss on this decision. The right call and they’ll most likely grab a playoff spot. But the wrong call and they’ll have the entire summer to think about what they did wrong.

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