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Giguere still trying to find his way

by Eric Stephens
Can one game make the difference for a goaltender? Could it make the difference for an entire team?

Time ultimately will tell, as it usually does for any NHL team, but it sure seemed like a difference-maker at the time for Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere when the Ducks traveled to Calgary earlier this month.

Stuck in the throes of a prolonged slump and in desperate need of a strong performance, a struggling Giguere got the nod again from Ducks coach Randy Carlyle for the game against the Flames. The accomplished veteran came through with 26 saves in a 2-1 victory that salvaged a three-game road trip for a team fighting to reclaim its playoff position.

It certainly looked like a turning point.

"At this point, I'm hoping for that," said Giguere, after a practice at Honda Center. "I want to have a good second half and help this team to the playoffs."

Sometimes one game can trigger change. Giguere was back in the net Feb. 11 against the Flames again on the back end of a rare home-and-home set between the teams and was solid again, making 21 saves in a 3-2 overtime win.

For the 31-year-old Giguere, it was the first time he had won consecutive games since Dec. 14. For the Ducks, who have become playoff regulars, but have had a decidedly erratic season, it meant five wins in their first eight games since the All-Star break.

Modest gains for both. Giguere, however, wasn't ready to proclaim that everything is right with his game.

"That one game gave me some confidence for sure," Giguere said. "But it's not about one game. Everybody can play one good game. Can you play 10 good games in a row? That's where you want to be at.

"That's what I'm aiming for. I'm not aiming for just one good game. It's important for me to keep working in the same direction."

Carlyle also was careful to say if the win in Calgary was a springboard to better times for his goalie, and for that matter, his team.

"You don't know that," he said. "That's what we're hoping. I think every coach and every player, every [member of] management would love for that to take place and utilize that. Time will tell in those situations.

"He's played fairly well for our hockey club the last few games. Now we have an option in our minds of going back to him. And he feels much better about himself too."

The two knew better than to raise expectations. The breakthrough moments for Giguere and the unpredictable Ducks have been fleeting.

Since beating the Northwest Division-leading Flames twice in a five-day span, Anaheim suffered home losses to Atlanta and Los Angeles. The 8-4 defeat to the Thrashers was particularly embarrassing, echoing other dreadful outings this season against cellar-dwelling teams. Giguere was pulled for the sixth time this season after allowing five goals on 25 shots.

Giguere is just 15-15-4 with a 3.12 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. The latter two are his worst marks since his second year in the League, certainly his worst since joining Anaheim in 2000-01. His numbers were better in a subpar 2003-04 season when he was saddled with a terrible 17-31-6 record.

His struggles were enough to make Carlyle have a sit-down talk with the veteran.           

"I said, we were going to take a different route," Carlyle said. "Because what we were doing for him wasn't working for him, it wasn't working for us and we were going to take a different approach.

"It wasn't like he was jumping up and down with joy at our decision. But we felt that would be best. Leave him alone a little bit, let him practice, let him get his feet underneath him and work out without having that type of pressure of performing night in and night out for us. And that's where Jonas was called upon."

Jonas Hiller has been the Ducks' safety value. The 27-year-old Swiss netminder has provided the consistency his team has lacked this season.

In his second NHL season, Hiller is 14-12-1 with four shutouts, an impressive 2.27 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. His numbers have been so much better than Giguere's that it's led some to wonder if the youngster should get the lion's share of starts for Anaheim's playoff push.

How did the Ducks find Hiller? Much of that credit goes to goalie guru Francois Allaire, the club's goaltending consultant.
Allaire, who's mentored Giguere and NHL Hall of Famer Patrick Roy among others, had Hiller in his camps from the time he was a teenager. When Hiller became a top-tier goalie for Davos in his native Switerzland, Allaire pressed the Ducks to find a way to sign him.

"When you win a championship in any country, it's big," Allaire said. "When Jonas started to win in Switzerland, I just said to this organization that there's a guy we should pay attention to and try and make some kind of proposal."

Still, it's Giguere that the Ducks rewarded with a four-year, $24 million contract after the 2007 Stanley Cup victory. But he has dealt his share of issues off the ice that could take any player out of his game.

On Dec. 15, the veteran's father, Claude, died after a long bout with colon cancer. Family heartache is something he's familiar with. At the start of the Ducks' triumphant Cup run, Giguere's son, Maxime, was born with a deformed right eye.

"It's still pretty fresh, for sure," he said of his dad's death. "I've moved on, just like anybody else would with the passing of a loved one. Eventually you're going to move on.
"Hopefully now I'm a better goalie because I went through this. I know more about myself than I did a few months ago." -- Jean-Sebastien Giguere
"For sure, the passing of my dad kind of created a lot of distractions, a lot of traveling. That's life, you know. That's the way it is."

Although he is well into his career, Giguere acknowledged that his competitive nature still gets the best of him in down times.

"There's days I was pretty cranky and there's days where I was not a great teammate, there's days I was down on myself," he said. "You hope that with experience you'd know better than to do that. But when you're in the moment, those emotions are hard to control sometimes.

"Hopefully now I'm a better goalie because I went through this. I know more about myself than I did a few months ago."
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