Jonas Hiller signed a four-year, $18 million contract extension on Saturday, smack-dab in the middle of a shutout streak that ended Wednesday night at 1:55:03. That’s the longest of his brief NHL career, and about two periods shy of Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s team record (2:37:07).
Is Hiller’s recent success directly tied to his new contract, and the expectations that come with it? Is it a result of being named the team’s undisputed, number-one goalie? Or is the team just playing better in front of him?
Maybe it’s all of the above.
Randy Carlyle, for one, downplayed the suggestion that Hiller is a young goalie taking ownership of a new role.
“I don’t look at him as a second- or third-year player,” the coach said. “I look at him as a veteran guy, just because of his age group (Hiller turns 28 in eight days), and his experiences that he’s already had in Europe and then last year in the playoffs.”
As is often the case, Hiller credited his teammates.
“I think the whole team’s playing real good defensively,” he said. “Even if I have rebounds, we’re clearing them. Everybody is fighting hard, blocking shots and doing everything back there. I hope we can keep it going.”
Pavel Datsyuk scored the lone goal for the Red Wings, who were admittedly tired after playing their second game as many nights, and their sixth in nine days.
At least Datsyuk didn’t look tired as he knifed through the Ducks’ defense on a second-period power play, then beat Hiller to the glove side with a quick forehand. It was revenge for the best save of Hiller’s 46, when the goalie reached up at the last second to glove a breakaway shot by Datsyuk earlier in the period.
“Those goals are going to happen. I’m not too worried about it,” Hiller said.
Of course, in the game of hockey, Hiller doesn’t worry too much about anything.
“He doesn’t seem to be a guy that has a lot of peaks and valleys,” Carlyle said. “He seems to be level-headed, and a lot of things don’t bother him. That’s the sign of a veteran pro.”
And in a sign of good defense, the Ducks tightened up on Datsyuk at midgame and held the Russian sniper without a shot on goal in the final period. Carlyle switched the line matchups — putting Ryan Getzlaf opposite Datsyuk instead of Kyle Chipchura — and it seemed to work.
Detroit still managed to produce 16 shots over the final 20 minutes, but Hiller stopped them all.
If it wasn’t already the case after last year’s playoff run, Hiller is not going to sneak up on anyone should the Ducks advance to the postseason this year.
“He’s played really well for them,” Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We saw a lot of shots, too, but he made the big saves and he was there for the rebounds, too.”