While the official opener to the season was in Europe, most Ducks fans counted the home opener against the San Jose Sharks as the real beginning to the season.
Playing in front of a sellout plus crowd of 17,243, the Ducks showed that their jet lag is gone. A 1-0 shut out of the Sharks, who had a large contingent of fans in the building, was especially satisfying. Seeing Jonas Hiller make all 31 saves and looking like his old self again? Priceless.
“You don’t have a chance in the NHL without solid goaltending,” coach Randy Carlyle aptly observed. “Jonas tonight provided a little bit more than solid. His ailments are something of the past. Now, we just have to maintain keeping him fresh and give him an opportunity to be able to play night in and night out.”
The Sharks spent more time in the Ducks end in the first period, and prevented Anaheim from getting a shot on goal until midway through. Hiller’s lightning fast swipe of Joe Pavelski’s puck out of the air at 10:25 seemed to give a boost to both the fans and the team on the ice.
A few minutes later, Maxime Macenauer netted his first NHL goal at 13:59 to give the Ducks their only goal. Macenauer, who also had an assist in Europe, leads the Ducks with two points. More than the top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan combined.
The Ducks will certainly need contributions from their fourth line and third line if they want to do well this season. However, the first two lines will also need to chip in as well, something that has yet to happen in the first three games. On a positive note, at least the third and fourth lines seem to have some legitimate chemistry and scoring ability, something that was lacking the past few years.
In the second period, the Ducks had much more momentum and spent a good portion of time in the Sharks zone. Nothing more went past Thomas Greiss, however.
Regrouping a bit in the third period, San Jose did their best to tie up the game, but to no avail. The scariest moment came midway through the period when Jason Blake, prone on the ice, had has left forearm cut by the skate blade of Sharks defenseman, Brent Burns. In a scramble for the puck, Burns skate caught Blake’s arm above the glove and Blake immediately knew there was a problem.
Leaving a significant amount of blood on the ice, Blake managed to get up, holding his hand gingerly and headed straight into the locker room. After the game, Blake was transported by ambulance to UCI Medical Center to receive a large amount of stitches to repair the wound. Fortunately for Blake, surgery was not required, but the damage is still bad enough. There is no word yet as to how long he will be missing from action, but it will be safe to say he will be out of the line up for more than a couple games.
After being named the first star of the game, and deservedly so, Hiller gave credit to his teammates, who helped make his job easier.
“I felt comfortable out there,” Hiller stated. “It was a really good game the whole team played. It’s definitely fun, with the crowd and everybody. I want to make a statement every night, no matter what happened last year. It’s always nice to get these kinds of games and feel good out there. Goaltending is a lot about confidence and it’s easier to play well if you start the season with these kinds of games. I’m definitely happy with the way it went. I also worked really hard to be where I’m at right now.”
Although there are no promises that Hiller’s vertigo will stay dormant, there is a collective sigh of relief that, for now, Hiller is back to his usual self. That can only bode well for the Ducks.
What will not bode well is if they expect to win every game this season 1-0. There needs to be more scoring, period.
But for now, a win is good enough, and a 2-1 start to the season is already a lot better than most previous years.