Ducks goalie Ray Emery has played an important role in keeping the Ducks… (Jerome Miron / U.S. Presswire )
Reporting from Calgary, Canada — Six months ago, goaltender Ray Emery was a man without a team and seemingly without a hockey future after undergoing drastic bone-graft surgery last April to repair the deterioration of the ball joint in his right hip.
Now, the Ducks are putting their season in his hands.
That's partly because All-Star goaltender Jonas Hiller is again experiencing vertigo-related problems that he said have left him feeling "up and down," and partly because Emery has earned that trust with his stellar play.
Emery is 6-0-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in his seven appearances after beating the Calgary Flames, 4-2, on Wednesday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
"He's battled to stop the puck, he's competed, he's shown a true professional attitude toward his preparation day in and day out, and right now he's been a godsend for our hockey club," Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said.
The Ducks scouted Emery extensively before signing him as a free agent Feb. 7 with the idea that he would provide experience and depth in the minor leagues. He grabbed a prominent role, though, while Hiller struggled with his health and while Dan Ellis — acquired from Tampa Bay on Feb. 24 — could not seize the starting job.
Emery said after the Ducks' morning skate Wednesday that he feels fine.
"I feel a lot better than I have in the last five years or so," he said.
But he did not feel ready to declare himself back to his old form.
"You've got to take it day by day," he said. "It's a long-term goal. It's not a five-game goal. It's not an end-of-the-season goal. So you take it day by day and make those little short-term goals happen and hopefully it lasts for a while."
Hiller first experienced dizziness and lightheadedness after his appearance in the NHL All-Star game. Tests ruled out a concussion and other ailments, and he played part of a period, sat out three games and then returned for a 12-save shutout of Edmonton.
He began to fill impaired again, however, and was put on injured reserve. He eventually resumed practicing and last Wednesday dressed as Emery's backup before returning to the nets last Thursday at Nashville. He was yanked after 12 minutes and three goals.
By playing in that game "I found out I'm not quite where I want to be. All I can do is give myself time," Hiller said Wednesday.
Hiller continues to practice with the Ducks, who are carrying three goalies. He said he had no problems in practices leading up to that short start.
"I was still not like where I wanted to be, but at some point I didn't know myself where I used to be. I kind of had to try it at some point," he said. "I don't think there were bad goals or whatever in Nashville, but I still felt like in unpredictable situations like tips or bounces off the boards or off the net would happen in Nashville and it seems like I was always a little behind. Always like a second late. At that high level it's just not good enough if you're a second late on that kind of stuff."
The unpredictability of when he will have good days and when he will have bad days has fed his frustration.
"I'm always trying to push myself and my personality is always that I want to reach goals and push, but at this point I kind of have to pace myself," Hiller said. "That's what the tough part is, not being able to just push, push, push and push through it because it's just not possible. I can't make myself see the puck if I don't feel comfortable."
He also said he is no longer setting a timetable for himself.
"Nobody can really tell me how long it's going to take," Hiller said. "That's kind of the toughest part. You want to be at a certain point and it's depressing if you're not there yet.
"So I guess I've got to take it day by day and do my best to feel right and hopefully it's going to be more good days than bad days, and at some point hopefully just good days."