On Saturday night Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller marched his team to the ice on the Dodger Stadium baseball diamond cloaked head to toe in neon orange. Interesting choice to most. Or at least the Los Angeles Kings spectators sprinkled in the reserve level seats around me made sure I knew they thought so. But as the game forged on under weather conditions more fitting for a beach day than the coldest of winter sports, the “construction worker” jeers all but came to a halt as Hiller lead the Ducks to their 39th win of this NHL season on their biggest stage to date since the Stanley Cup Finals of 2007.
A win also tallied as Hiller’s fourth shutout of the season. And hopefully, along with the silencing of GQ natured criticisms, came the silencing of words far more important than the Hiller look, the questionable nature of his unrestricted free agency at season’s close.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, Ducks GM Bob Murray hushed any thought of an early season exit for Hiller by bluntly stating the lights out goalie will not be traded.
But once you give critics an affirmative no in one corner, they will surely find another, now leaning their focus on Hiller’s offseason future. And such debate does contain valid points.
Anaheim’s powerhouse strength this year is in no small part due to depth in net. With Hiller at the helm, ducklings Viktor Fasth (currently on injured reserve), rookie Frederik Andersen and minor league prospect John Gibson have all come up big when needed in their respective places. A consistency that can surely be credited in some way to this season’s goaltending consultant, Dwayne Roloson. So why keep a veteran when Roloson can simply woo the talent of the others up to No. 1?
Experience. And perhaps that neon orange.
Although Hiller’s .915 save percentage with 2.35 GAA are simply decent numbers on paper, his 24-6-4 game record this season is top notch. And let’s not forget that 14 of those wins came in a row.
Because even the best coaching cannot make up for knowing the way boards bounce in various arenas, reading a fake left before stopping a shot right and certain glove saves fit only for the highlight reels. Because Hiller’s physical performance has been at times, as seen prominently under the California stars this past weekend, the only thing sustaining Anaheim’s consistency.
From the stone cold shutdown of Anze Kopitar‘s penalty shot in the first period Saturday, to robbing shots on almost four straight Kings powerplay minutes at the top of the third, at night’s end, even the most skeptical fans wondered if the interesting choice in goalie attire for the night actually had something to it.
And so the Ducks roll on, with summer contracting critics slowly coming to a hush around a perfectly centered Hiller. For now, at least. Leaving me willing to bet a few mini-mite goalies will ask their parents for something orange to stuff in their bags before practice this week. Even if just to channel that little bit of magic.