Even when Jonas Hiller was starting the final seven games of the 2008-09 regular season, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere wasn’t, Randy Carlyle called his goaltenders “1-A and 1-B” and left you, the fan, to decide your preferred alphabetical order. Not until playoff time was there a distinct number 1 (Hiller) and number 2 (Giguere).
Asking the Ducks’ coach to nail down a starter at this point in the preseason, then, might be as appealing as pulling teeth – something hockey coaches are historically familiar with. Especially when Giguere stopped 23 of 25 shots in a 3-2 Ducks’ win Monday, bringing his two-game total to 37 stops on 41 shots. Meanwhile, Hiller has stopped 40 of 44 in his two appearances.
With three preseason games left to decide the team’s most prominent position battle, there doesn’t seem to be a clear favorite.
“We’re going to give them equal opportunity to play,” Carlyle said. “Our plan is to give Giguere another game and Hiller, make sure he gets another one. We have (Justin) Pogge here, and a back-to-back situation, so I think it looks like we’ll just try to spell that out in that manner and see where the chips fall.”
One thing is clear so far: The shots aren’t falling in behind Giguere like they did last season. In the worst year of his career (statistically, and perhaps personally), Giguere posted a 3.10 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage while going 19-18-6. Hiller (2.39, .919, 23-15-1) started all 13 playoff games, after which Giguere resolved to get his mind away from hockey for most of the summer.
“I tried to push that aside this summer, tried to come with a new attitude, with a new jump in my step, and I just try to have fun if I come to the rink,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be more relaxed, less tense, and not worry so much about winning and losing. At the end of the day, I’m just going to try to have fun.”
The strategy seems to have worked so far, keeping the Ducks competitive against two surprisingly elite goaltenders (Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov) in his two preseason appearances.
“He made some big stops at key times,” Carlyle said of Giguere’s performance Monday. “One on the breakaway (by Benn Ferreiro) in the second period, and one when we collapsed down, gave up a 4-on-2, and two guys went to the same guy and (Jason) Demers was all alone in the slot. Those are big stops.”