ANAHEIM -- Heading into this fall, a major area of concern for the Ducks was how well goalkeeper Jonas Hiller would bounce back after missing most of the second half of last season while battling vertigo-like symptoms.
He put much of the curiosity to rest after winning three of his first four starts, but Sunday night against Phoenix brought back troubling memories of how quickly things can go wrong.
The Coyotes scored five goals on 19 shots in a tick under 28 minutes against Hiller, just the right number to defeat the Ducks, 5-4, at Honda Center.
Hiller was removed from the game after giving up three goals in a 3:09 span early in the second period, giving Phoenix a 5-2 lead. Backup Dan Ellis managed to shut down the Coyotes the rest of the game, stopping 16 shots in the process, but the damage had already been done. Hiller has now given up eight goals in his last two starts.
“When you look back on it, the flurry of goals in the second period sunk our hockey club,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. “We probably should have done something after the fourth goal, instead of waiting for the fifth."
The most troublesome goal allowed by Hiller came long before the second-period barrage. Less than a minute after the Ducks took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Ryan Getzlaf with 5:58 remaining in the opening period, Martin Hanzal skated into the offensive zone and let a wrist shot fly from the top of the left faceoff circle.
With no traffic between Hanzal and the goal, the puck still found a way under Hiller’s left arm pit and skidded across the goal line.
“The second goal is my fault,” Hiller said. “It was a bouncing puck, a rolling puck, but I still should have made the save.”
The Coyotes then scored three straight goals in the second period to chase Hiller from the game. To his defense, Hiller’s teammates didn’t help the situation by committing ill-timed turnovers in their defensive end.
“It’s tough when we get out there and the pucks bounce a little bit and we’re not making the plays we normally would make,” Getzalf said. “That comes with the effort and the mindset we have going into a hockey game.”
Carlyle saw the same sloppiness from the bench, but reiterated that the goalie is the last line of defense and must counteract his teammates’ mistakes.
“Jonas has been a stalwart for this hockey club and has probably been our MVP in a lot of games,” Carlyle said. “It’s hard to point the finger, but I’m sure he’d like to have some of them back.”
The Ducks have to feel good about the performance of Ellis, however. He won his only start last week in San Jose and did a notable job shutting down the Coyotes over the last 32 minutes, giving the Ducks a chance to come back.
With a seven-game, 12-day road trip beginning Tuesday in Chicago, Ellis will likely see additional time in goal.
“Dan Ellis has come in and played some real strong goal for us,” Carlyle said. “We’re not afraid to use him, that’s for sure.”
As long as it's not in a relief role.