ANAHEIM, Calif. - A mini Sidney Crosby drama is playing out here on the West Coast, involving the Anaheim Ducks, who lost their most valuable player this season, goaltender Jonas Hiller, to a perplexing case of vertigo and dizziness that, at the moment, is showing no signs of going away.
That uncertainty was the primary reason that the Ducks went into the NHL trade market last week to land goaltender Dan Ellis from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ellis began the year in a rotation with Mike Smith, but ultimately, the Lightning determined to go in a different direction and brought in Dwayne Roloson as their starter. Ellis was just getting used to his new revamped role in the Tampa organization when the Anaheim trade came, catching him by surprise.
The Ducks, meanwhile, were in a playoff position when Hiller went out, but lost a handful of games when Curtis McIlhinney struggled to assume starting duties. Ellis has won two in a row - the most recent Sunday against the Colorado Avalanche - to staunch the bleeding. It leaves Anaheim 11th in the West heading into an important home date with the Detroit Red Wings tonight. Later this week, they play the conference-leading Vancouver Canucks.
With all hands on deck, the Ducks have shown an ability to compete with any team in the league this season. Without Hiller, they have been a bit more like the Penguins without Crosby - average most nights. And average, in the ultra-competitive West, won't get it done, meaning that Ellis is their key player at the moment.
"I think it's a little bit easier to a goaltender (to adapt to a new team)," Ellis was saying Wednesday, "because you're stopping the puck. You're trying to figure out where the puck is coming through, and where the tendencies are. In Tampa, we tended to give it away up the middle more, so you had to be prepared for more middle-opportunity shots.
"Here, you just try to figure out the same tendencies. It'll take a few more games to figure it out for sure, but overall, this D corps is one of the best D corps I've ever played with - and they communicate better than anyone I've ever played with."
That was quite an assertion, so Ellis elaborated.
"Every time I go to touch the puck behind the net, there's consistency back there. There's consistency in the communication; and there's also consistency in their positioning - whereas, in Tampa and Nashville, any time you had the puck back there, you didn't know what you were going to get. I haven't had this type of consistency since playing in the Dallas organization ... so that's been a huge bonus."