It's time to give Jonas Hiller his due
He has faced the most shots in the NHL this season and carries the fourth-best save percentage in the league, but how many people outside Southern California have noticed Jonas Hiller is having an All-Star season with the Anaheim Ducks?
Heck, he has serious competition in his own backyard, where Jonathan Quick is having a standout season in the Los Angeles Kings' net.
There's only room for five more goalies at the All-Star Game on Jan. 30 after (Pittsburgh) fans made Marc-Andre Fleury a starter. The competition for Hiller and Quick is stiff -- Tim Thomas, Ondrej Pavelec, Carey Price, Cam Ward, Tomas Vokoun, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist ... well, you get the picture.
It says here, however, that Hiller deserves a trip to Raleigh. He is the reason why the Ducks have stayed in the playoff race this season despite giving up the second-most shots in the NHL on average per game (34.3)? The 28-year-old Swiss netminder has been a rock.
"I got some confidence in playing more games and just feeling better going out there," Hiller, who has appeared in a league-leading 37 games, told ESPN.com on Thursday. "Goaltending is a lot about experience, and the more you play, the better you get. I'm having the chance to play a lot of games right now and I'm feeling comfortable with it. I definitely feel I've taken another step, but I still feel like I can play even better."
Let's be clear about something. While some players would rather go to the Caribbean during the All-Star break (me too, for that matter), Hiller makes no bones about what a first trip to the All-Star berth would mean to him.
"It would be a great honor," he said. "When I signed a contract over here four years ago, my goal was always not just to be here, that would not satisfy me. I wanted to be one of the best. Being at the All-Star Game would mean being one of the best. It's something I was probably just dreaming about and now I feel it's not too far away. It would be really exciting for me if I could go."
That's up the folks at the NHL's hockey operations department in Toronto. They'll fill out the rest of the All-Star rosters and announce them Tuesday. They have no doubt seen these stats on Hiller:
• He has five games this season where he's stopped 40 or more shots and a dozen games where he's stopped 35 or more.
• His .925 save percentage and 19 wins are on pace to break (or tie) Jean-Sebastien Giguere's team-record 36 wins from 2006-07 and Giguere's .922 save percentage from 2007-08.
• Since Dec. 1, he has been tied for second in wins (9-5-1), third in save percentage (.939), and third in goals-against average (2.04).
• Over his past 14 starts, Hiller has gone 8-4-1 with a 1.81 GAA and .946 save percentage.
Hiller said he didn't really change anything technically coming into this season, but has felt better than ever between the ears.
"In the end, goaltending is so much about the mental," Hiller said. "You have to go out there and feel good. That's what is happening right now; I know I can go out there and play well every night. That's a feeling you build up and you have to preserve it. You have to work hard for it."
Hiller can't have a hiccup. The Duck have played more games (43) than anyone in the West and are smack in the middle of a 10-team logjam for the last five playoff spots. It's an insane race and the Ducks have little leeway.
"It's unbelievable how close it is again this year," Hiller said. "We know how things are tight. ... We know we have to win as many as games as possible the rest of the year, that's the only we can make the playoffs."
And if they make it, you'll know why.