ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jonas Hiller has made a strong case for all-star consideration with back-to-back shutouts. If the Anaheim Ducks keep playing this well in front of him, they’ll make a strong bid for a return to the playoffs after missing out last year.
Hiller made 37 saves to extend his scoreless streak to 154 minutes, 50 seconds, making Bobby Ryan’s second-period goal stand up, and the Ducks handed the struggling San Jose Sharks their fourth straight loss with a 1-0 victory Sunday night.
“It’s fun to play in front of Jonas. He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s not making any mistakes,” Saku Koivu said. “It’s a great feeling when your goaltender’s playing that well because you know he’s going to make some great saves, even when the other team gets some chances.”
Hiller, who has consecutive shutouts for the first time in his career, thwarted three power plays en route to his fourth shutout of the season, the 10th of his career and first against San Jose. He stopped 27 shots in a 6-0 win over Columbus on Friday.
“It’s great that I’m not getting scored on. That’s always a good feeling,” Hiller said. “But what really counts is the two points against a conference rival. We had a great team effort.”
The Sharks’ talented trio of all-stars Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley combined for 12 shots on net, but were frustrated again. Heatley, whose 234 goals since the 2004-05 lockout are the third-most in the league behind Alex Ovechkin (284) and Ilya Kovalchuk (240), has just two over his last 17 games.
“When you play against a line like that, there’s not one thing you have to do against them. You just try to stay on the defensive side of the puck and not give them anything,” Koivu said. “You have to limit your own mistakes and make sure the puck goes deep into their zone so that if they create something, they really have to work for it.”
The Sharks have just five goals over their last five games since beating the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 5-3 on Dec. 30. They have taken 129 shots on net over the last 13 periods, but have just one goal. That was by rookie centre Logan Couture, who leads the team with 19.
“We are playing good hockey, but nothing wants to find its way into the net for us right now,” Thornton said. “We are right there, right on the brink of breaking out. We just have to keep working at it, because it’s tough to score goals.”
Couture hit the right post with a 30-foot wrist shot in the first period and was stopped by Hiller twice from short range about a minute into the second period.
“I thought he had some nice chances,” Ryan said. “He plays so well through traffic and he goes to those dirty areas. He’s got those quick hands and a quick release, so the general thing you try to do is contain him—make him shoot from the outside. He took a shot in the foot from (Andreas) Lilja, right on top of the laces, and it kind of slowed him down a little bit in the third period.”
Ryan scored at 14:29 of the second with his team-high 18th goal. The four-year veteran stickhandled across the slot waiting for an opening, then beat Antti Niemi from a sharp angle to the right of the net after Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic steered him in that direction. Niemi finished with 27 saves.
“Their defenceman made a good play in following me,” Ryan said. “I kept trying to wait for him to stop and he never did, so finally I hit the brakes. There as so much traffic in front of the net, so I just tried to put it through there. They haven’t found holes in the past month, so I’m glad they’re finding them right now.”
Ryan’s goal was his fourth goal in five games since shifting from right wing to centre in the wake of captain Ryan Getzlaf’s injury. Getzlaf was struck by a deflected puck at Phoenix, breaking several bones in his face and sidelining him for more than a month.
NOTES: Hiller has stopped 80 straight shots. … NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, in town for a dinner honouring former Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer, attended the game and addressed the league’s collective bargaining agreement that is set to expire at the end of next season. “I would respectfully urge that focusing on that right now is way premature,” Bettman said. “There are three other major sports that have collective bargaining agreements that expire before ours, so we’re the caboose on this train. We have a great season going on and another one to come. If you like, focus on the otherthree because they’re more front-and-centre than we are.” … Couture leads San Jose with 146 shots on net, one more than Marleau. … Heatley scored twice against the Ducks in a 5-2 win on Oct. 30 at San Jose.