(AP) — 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.”
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.