According to Jonas Hiller
, he was playing at his puck-stopping peak about a year ago.
Ranking atop the League's stat board in almost every goaltending category in the first half of an All-Star season, the Anaheim goalie was consistently stealing games as he frustrated shooters with his distinctively lanky, wide-stance, butterfly style.
But then in early February came a head injury — featuring "vertigo-like symptoms" — that eventually turned his inspired 2010-11 season into a frustrating nightmare.
Despite currently being "symptom free," Hiller says his comeback this season has not been free of drama.
"I feel I am not where I want to be," Hiller, 29, said after a practice in Anaheim last week. "I mean, I am having some really good games, but I don't think I am consistent enough, which has always been a strength. That extra-good feeling every night is still missing."
Goalie - ANA
GAA: 3.17 | SVP: 0.899
The good news for Hiller is that he is no longer suffering from the dizziness and light-headedness that plagued him well into his summer break.
The bad news is that the talent-laden team in front of Hiller has under-performed at both ends of the ice, even while the Ducks' goaltender has been a durable workhorse, playing in 19 of the Ducks' 22 games.
"We are struggling as a team, which doesn't help," Hiller said. "But I can do better."
Hiller credits his ability to log so much time in the net this season to his decision near the end of the 2010-11 campaign to go cold turkey from even stepping on the ice. He had tried to come back too quickly just days after his initial injury, then again attempted to rush himself back near the end of the season, which in hindsight he believes was a mistake.
"I was pressuring myself, wanting to be back as quick as possible, but I was more stressed out because I was rushing myself," Hiller said. "That was really tough. I needed to back off. Every day I was trying and trying, and then after practice I was disappointed because I wasn't where I wanted to be."
Bucking his competitive instinct to push himself back, Hiller says healing didn't take place until he left his Newport Beach home for a hockey-free summer break in his native Switzerland.
"I was happy when I could just go away and not think about hockey for a while and didn't think much about stopping pucks," Hiller said. "Getting away from everything definitely can help."
Hiller says the lesson that he learned -- to just "chill out" – is one that could be applied to goalies suffering from head injuries. Already this season, Toronto's James Reimer
and Buffalo's Ryan Miller
have been sidelined with head injuries.
Indeed, the Swiss native is not neutral on the topic of treating head-related injuries.
"I can't say what they should or shouldn't do, because every head issue is different, but I'd say that players should definitely take their time and make sure they are really ready to play," Hiller says. "I had to first feel good in practice before I could play in a game. I didn't feel that way until I got back on the ice over the summer."
Hiller believes Sidney Crosby
is a good role model when it comes to treating head cases.
"It was great that Crosby didn't rush back," Hiller said. "Everyone wanted him to play, but he could have had long-term issues if he returned too soon. It was great he took his time."
With an .899 save percentage and 3.17 goals-against average, Hiller is the first to admit that he has yet to regain his form for early last season – a testament to how head-related ailments can prove to be among the most challenging.
"When I compare myself to how I was at the All-Star Game last year, I still think I can play better," he said. "I am improving, but I still think I can play better."