Goalie Dan Ellis makes a save during a game between the Tampa Bay Lightning… (Justin K. Aller / Getty Images )
A Ducks logo was hastily taped to the mask Ray Emery wore in practice Thursday, symbolizing the pieced-together state of the team's goaltending while Jonas Hiller battles an apparent case of vertigo.
A position that was the Ducks' strength a few weeks ago became their undoing in the hands of a fragile Curtis McElhinney and a not-ready-for-prime-time Timo Pielmeier. Hours after the Ducks' losing streak hit four, General Manager Bob Murray traded McElhinney to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday for the more experienced Dan Ellis, who will be the starter for now.
Emery, whose road back from major hip surgery began with three minor league games last week and a backup role Wednesday, will back up Ellis until Hiller returns — whenever that might be. Hiller skated Thursday and faced some shots, but there is no timetable for his recovery.
Murray said McElhinney played "OK" Wednesday in a 3-2 loss to the Kings, but the Ducks need better than that to regain a playoff spot.
"Going forward with the uncertainty with Jonas at the moment, we just felt we needed more experience and Dan has had experience being the No. 1 and playing in the playoffs," Murray said Thursday at the Honda Center.
"He's carried a team at times, which is the most important thing for me. … The whole Jonas thing keeps you talking and making you find out what's available. And there was not that much available, really. Time is moving by here and we've got to get going."
Ellis, 30, had a fine season with Nashville in 2007-08, compiling a 2.34 goals-against average, a league-leading .924 save percentage and six shutouts for a defense-oriented team. He played all six games of the Predators' first-round playoff loss to Detroit. He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent last summer but was supplanted by Dwayne Roloson while struggling to a 13-7-6 record, 2.93 goals-against average and .889 save percentage.
"At this point of the season I actually feel like it's the best that I've been playing all year," said Ellis, who is under contract this season and next at $1.5 million per year.
After signing Emery to a two-way contract Feb. 7, the Ducks planned to leave him with Syracuse of the American Hockey League for a while before bringing him to Anaheim to work with goalie consultant Pete Peeters and face NHL shooters. That plan was accelerated when Hiller was put on injured reserve a second time and McElhinney flailed.
"He's got to play some more," Murray said of Emery, who is ticketed to provide depth in Syracuse when Hiller returns. "I think it's really unfair to put a whole bunch of huge expectations on him at the moment."
Emery's checkered history includes a Stanley Cup finals loss to the Ducks with Ottawa in 2007 and incidents of lateness and clashes with teammates. He said maturity and the perspective he gained while bed-ridden and on crutches after surgery have led him to appreciate this chance to revive his career.
"Everyone learns from their mistakes, and mine are still in the air I guess," he said. "I'm not a stupid person. I know what works and what doesn't work. Certain things that come up like that, I want to move past them and definitely won't repeat the same mistakes."
Like Emery, the Ducks have no margin for error.