SOCHI, Russia – There was under a minute left in Switzerland’s game against the Czech Republic on Saturday night in Sochi. The Swiss were clinging to a one-goal lead. The Czechs had their goalie pulled, their best offensive players on the ice and a faceoff to the right of the Swiss net.
Jonas Hiller was smiling through his mask, as if he already knew the outcome.
“Sometimes you’re just feeling it. Things go your way. You’re excited to be out there, helping your team get three points,” said Hiller, who stopped 26 shots in the 1-0 victory, moving the Swiss to 2-1-0 in Group C. “When things are going well, it’s easier to smile out there.”
Things are going their way … well, defensively at least. The Swiss have faced 78 shots and stopped 77 of them, the lone goal against coming from Daniel Alfredsson in their only loss of the tournament, 1-0 to the Swedes.
That’s a team save percentage of .987 and a goals against average of 0.34.
That’s two shutouts for Hiller, over Latvia and the Czechs.
“Structure wise we’re doing a really god job, in the neutral zone and our own zone. We’re not giving them many scoring chances, barely any odd-man rushes. It makes life easier as a goalie. I’m seeing the puck really well right now. It’s just a lot of fun to play,” said Hiller, the Anaheim Ducks standout goalie.
“I wish we’d score a couple more goals up front, make life a little easier. But as long as we’re winning I’m not complaining.”
That’s the flip side for the Swiss: They’re first in defense and last in offense, with a 0.67 goals per game mark. Hiller won both times by 1-0 scores; their lone loss was also 1-0, to Henrik Lundqvist and Sweden.
“I try to have a 5-0 game or something,” Hiller said with a laugh, after beating the Czechs. “We don’t have the skillset to play a game of trading chances. We did a really good job frustrating them.”
The Swiss are, perhaps, the tournament’s toughest team to play. Hiller looks impenetrable. The defense is organized and stifling in front of him.
“We keep those guys to the outside. Try not to give up too many shots from the slot,” said defenseman Mark Streit. “The structure works well defensively. It works.”
They also don’t give up anything on the power play: They’ve faced 11 penalty kills in the tournament, and they’ve been successful in all of them.
Right now, the Swiss can beat anyone in this tournament. Hiller is locked in, carrying over his success with the Ducks this season. The defense is working together expertly.
The Swiss, it could be argued, were favored in both games Hiller started. It’s new territory for the Olympics’ perpetual underdogs. They’ve gone from looking to surprise in the upcoming medal round to looking for hardware around their necks.
“We don’t want to hide from those opponents. We talk about playing with those guys, and not wait for our chances and hide,” said forward Damien Brunner.
Even if that means Hiller sees some of this Ducks teammates, like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry with Canada or Cam Fowler with Team USA.
“I hope I can face a couple of them in the quarterfinals,” he said. Smiling, as usual these days.