By Kyle Shohara
Anaheim’s two-game road trip through Western Canada is woven with storylines, and it begins tonight when the Ducks face their former goaltender Jonas Hiller, who signed with the Calgary Flames in the offseason.
Hiller was the Ducks’ stalwart netminder for several years, originally signed as an undrafted free agent on May 25, 2007. In his seven-year career in Orange County, Hiller posted a 162-110-32 record in 326 games, and currently ranks first in franchise history in save percentage (.916), second in goals-against average (2.51) and third in wins, shutouts (21) and appearances. The 32-year-old also appeared in 26 postseason games (12-12), including three shutouts.
But with the emergence of rookie goalies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson last season, most notably in the playoffs, Hiller’s role diminished. His late-season struggles (including two disappointing starts in Edmonton), relegated him to a backup role behind Andersen as the postseason began. Hiller’s losses in Games 1 and 2 to the Kings in the second round gave Andersen the starting role for Anaheim’s eventual Game 3 victory. Hiller relieved Andersen at the 49-minute mark of that game when he went down with a lower-body injury, but it was the then-20-year-old Gibson – not Hiller – who got the start for Game 4.
“It was tough not to take it personally,” Hiller said. “I definitely didn’t make it easier on myself [knowing] that my No. 1 job was up for grabs. I could have played better. Maybe things would be different. It was tough at that point to not second-guess yourself and be mentally focused out there just to play well.”
Anaheim chose not to re-sign Hiller, who became an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Calgary wasted no time snatching him from the open market. The Flames signed him to a two-year contract that day, giving them a proven No. 1 netminder. Since signing with the Flames, Hiller has compiled an 8-4-1 record in 13 appearances to lead Calgary (11-6-2, 24 points) to third place in the Pacific Division, two points behind the division-leading Ducks (11-4-4, 26 points).
“I'm definitely excited to play those guys," Hiller said. “It's definitely going to be a little more special than a usual game. But at the end, we want to win two points. It doesn't really matter who we play.”
The Ducks are well aware of Hiller’s ability to steal games, and he was up to his old tricks this season when he recorded 49 saves in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on October 15.
Said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, “He'll be at his absolute best [tonight]. We know that.”
BEAUCHEMIN IS BACK
Anaheim’s leader on defense returned to practice yesterday following a bout with the mumps that forced him to miss the past four games. After practice, Beauchemin said he “felt pretty good,” but an exact date of return has not yet been made. Thursday at Vancouver remains a possibility for a guy known for returning quicker than expected. “If you know Francois, that's all he'll say is he feels great,” said Boudreau. “He could take six months off and say, 'Oh I feel great, let's play.' It's great that he feels good and healthy. Now he just has to get his conditioning up and he’ll be able to play.”
Beauchemin was hospitalized last week for a persistent fever, and needed two bags of IV fluid during his stay. He dropped 10 pounds while in the hospital.