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Hiller happy to be back in net, moving forward

Monday, 10.03.2011 / 10:01 AM / 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere

By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent

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Hiller happy to be back in net, moving forward
The All-Star goaltender for the Ducks, whose top-flight season in 2010-11 was derailed by vertigo symptoms, looks ready to reclaim his spot among League's best  
Teemu Selanne didn't need to see Jonas Hiller in a game to know that his goaltender was back to form.

When the Anaheim Ducks were about to play their third game in as many nights recently, Selanne and several other players who weren't in the lineup still put in some work in Anaheim.
Hiller was among the group, too, and Selanne remembers well.

"We're doing the shootout (drill) and he was almost like a wall," Selanne said. "I thought he was better than ever. That's a great sign. We all know how important the goaltending is."

With three solid preseason games under his belt heading into the team's trip to Europe as part of the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere, Hiller has provided glimpses of how important he is to the Ducks and allowed them to breathe a small sigh of relief.

In three preseason games, he allowed three goals, posting a 1.38 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.

While Hiller declared himself in August rid of the vertigo symptoms that prematurely ended his 2010-11 season, the organization wasn't fully comfortable until he played a full game against top-flight competition for the first time since March 24 (Hiller previously had not played since Feb. 2).

"If I play every night like this, we definitely have a chance to win. That's pretty much all that I asked. I definitely still see (room for) improvement. The season is long. We're still in September. Hopefully I'll be playing my best in mid-April." -- Jonas Hiller

That came Sept. 28, when Hiller made 31 saves against a Vancouver Canucks team that dressed most of its regulars. He withstood a 6-on-3 disadvantage in the waning seconds and looked sharp with his glove in a 3-2 Ducks victory.

"If I play every night like this, we definitely have a chance to win," Hiller said after the game. "That's pretty much all that I asked. I definitely still see (room for) improvement. The season is long. We're still in September. Hopefully I'll be playing my best in mid-April."

Hiller never made it to April last season. He barely got to February before dizziness and balance issues shut him down for the season except for a disastrous, one-last-try start March 24 against Nashville.

The entire episode was as puzzling as it was frustrating for the Ducks.

Hiller, who was passed the franchise goaltending baton by Jean-Sebastien Giguere when he signed a four-year, $18 million contract extension in 2010, singlehandedly kept the Ducks above water in the first half of last season.

By Jan. 7 Hiller had faced the most shots (1,186) of any goaltender in the NHL and still maintained the fourth-best save percentage (.925). He had 19 victories and had played in a League-high 37 games.

Hiller also had five shutouts and strung together a career-high 179 minute, 48 second scoreless streak from Jan. 5 to Jan. 12.

But a shot by Pittsburgh's Kris Letang hit Hiller in the mask in the All-Star Game, and while Hiller initially said he was fine, days later he reported spells of dizziness and lightheadedness.

After a concussion was ruled out, Hiller underwent a battery of tests that proved inconclusive. The symptoms persisted, and Hiller said it was like watching a movie and being a frame behind.

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The team had Hiller try to work through the symptoms to no results. He played a total of 81 minutes in three games after the All-Star break.

"I think I was the first guy who saw it," Selanne said. "He was so lazy out there. Then he was sitting at his stall for an hour and just looking down. I thought, 'My god, there's something wrong with this guy.' Obviously it was tough because up to that point I think he was the best goalie in the League."

This summer Hiller rested and returned home to Switzerland, where he could communicate more comfortably with specialists.

A cause of the symptoms never was found, but Hiller was back on the ice in July. He spent subsequent weeks working in former Anaheim and current Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending consultant Francois Allaire's camp, and training with the Swiss club SC Bern.

In informal practices he faced NHL-quality shooters like countryman Mark Streit of the New York Islanders, and pronounced himself fit Aug. 19.

Even though Hiller was ready and available, the Ducks did not play him in front of their home fans in their opening pair of preseason games.

Hiller finally played Sept. 24 in Vancouver, making 21 saves in his two periods of work, and then in the rematch with the Canucks, he allayed any fears with a solid night against a Vancouver lineup that included Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who were playing their first game since losing in the Stanley Cup Final.

"It's a relief to see him rebound the way he has," Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf said. "We know the unfortunate thing that went on for him last season. It's nice to see him back in his form and the Jonas we're used to seeing."

A disciple of Allaire's butterfly school of goaltending, Hiller virtually is unbeatable down low when he's on his game. His style helped the Ducks upset top-seeded San Jose in the 2009 playoffs, and it's paramount to the team's postseason hopes in 2011-12.

"I feel like I'm really sharp on the puck, especially in the first (period) where I felt they were just bringing everything to the net," Hiller said Sept. 28. "Lots of pucks I was able to find. I'm going in the right direction, but there's always improvement. That's what (preseason) games are for."

Carlyle almost is ready to declare Hiller's health a non-issue.

"If he continues to play and continues to be symptom-free as he has shown us," Carlyle said, "then there's no reason to (worry) about what happened and go forward."
Quote of the Day

I didn't even know how to celebrate. I threw my hands up, they gave me a hug, so I guess that's all I needed.

— Sabres forward Tim Schaller on scoring his first NHL goal Sunday against the Bruins