Ducks-Blues Preview

Playing without All-Star goaltender Jonas Hiller is starting to

take its toll on the Anaheim Ducks.

Coming off another disappointing defensive effort, the suddenly

struggling Ducks look to avoid losing three straight games for the

first time in nearly three months Saturday night when they visit

the St. Louis Blues.

Hiller had appeared in two games for Anaheim (32-23-4) after

being hit in the mask twice in the All-Star game, but was finally

placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a recurrence of fatigue

and lightheadedness.

Backup Curtis McElhinney posted a 2.28 goals-against average and

one shutout in winning his first three starts as Hiller’s

replacement, but has surrendered 12 goals in losing the last two.

The Ducks, who were an NHL-best 14-4-0 in their previous 14 games,

haven’t lost three in a row since dropping a season-worst six

straight from Nov. 14-26.

McElhinney called his performance “disheartening” in Wednesday’s

7-6 loss to Washington, and said that word was again appropriate

after he made 21 saves in Friday’s 5-1 loss to Minnesota.

“There need to be some saves made at critical points in the

game, and they aren’t happening right now,” McElhinney said. “I

need to find a way to get it done.”

The Ducks remain in a three-way tie for third place in the

Pacific Division, three points behind first-place Phoenix. Coach

Randy Carlyle was noncommittal about who will start between the

pipes Saturday, saying “You’ll have to be at warmup.”

Timo Pielmeier, who has been recalled from the ECHL to serve as

McElhinney’s backup, has yet to play in an NHL game. Veteran Ray

Emery, who signed a one-year deal with Anaheim last week, is on a

conditioning stint with the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in Syracuse.

McElhinney has recorded a 4.06 GAA in losing all three career

starts against the Blues, all in St. Louis.

The Ducks beat the Blues 7-4 at home on Jan. 12, thanks to Bobby

Ryan’s hat trick, but suffered a 5-1 loss in St. Louis on Oct.

11.

Like Anaheim, the Blues (26-21-9) also recently placed their

starting goalie on IR, but they’ve responded much better.

Ty Conklin stopped 25 shots in Friday’s 3-0 win over Buffalo in

his first start since Jaroslav Halak went on IR with a right hand

ailment. T.J. Oshie led the offense with a goal and assist for St.

Louis, which won its second straight and improved to 4-1-2 in its

last seven games after going 2-8-2 in its previous 12.

Friday’s victory was an encouraging one for a Blues team that

traded captain Eric Brewer to Tampa Bay hours before the game.

“To be honest, we had a lot of distractions today. Seeing Brew

go right before the game, our captain,” Conklin said. “He’s a hell

of a good teammate, so it’s pretty impressive how the team

responded.”

The wheeling and dealing continued Saturday when the Blues sent

former 2006 No. 1 overall pick and defenseman Erik Johnson, Jay

McClement and a first-round pick in either 2011 or 2012 to the

Colorado Avalanche for forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin

Shattenkirk.

”We’re very excited to acquire a young emerging power forward

in Chris Stewart and a top young NHL defenseman in Kevin

Shattenkirk,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said on the

team’s website. ”These are two solid young players which will help

us now and continue to grow and improve our team.”

Although Conklin played well against the Sabres, he struggled

mightily in Anaheim last month, yielding all seven goals. He had

posted a 1.25 GAA and a shutout in winning his first four starts

against the Ducks.

While Ryan got the best of Conklin in January, Corey Perry could

be poised for a big game this time.

Perry, who is tied for fourth in the NHL with 30 goals, has five

goals and 10 assists during a seven-game points streak. He had a

goal and an assist against the Blues last month.