After going with a goalie tandem for a few seasons now, the Anaheim Ducks are now going forward with John Gibson as their undisputed starter.
Gibson, a second-round selection (39th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, made his NHL debut April 7, 2014 against Vancouver, stopping all 18 shots he faced en route to a 3-0 shutout victory. In total, he started three games that regular season, posted a 3-0-0 record with a 1.33 goals against average, a .954 save percentage and one shutout.
Because of his strong play in his first three career games, he earned playing time that postseason — winning two games and losing two.
But since his first day in the league he has always had to fight for playing time. During his first full season in the NHL in 2014-15, he had to share the Anaheim net with Ilya Bryzgalov, Frederik Andersen and Jason LaBarbera. He also had to fight a groin injury. Then during this past season he had to battle Andersen, Anton Khudobin and another minor injury.
But all of that changed this offseason when general manager Bob Murray cleared out the Ducks’ goaltender logjam. Andersen was traded to Toronto and Khudobin moved on to Boston. The organization has handed the starting goaltender reigns to Gibson outright and Jonathan Bernier is his new backup.
And this is why Gibson is the Ducks’ X-factor this season.
There’s no doubt about it, the native of Pittsburgh has all the tools to be a successful starting goaltender in the NHL and has earned the starting nod.
After 66 regular season contests at the NHL level, Gibson has a record of 37-21-4 with a 2.22 GAA, a .920 save percentage and six shutouts. Despite playing in just 40 games last season, Gibson got consideration for both the Calder Trophy and the Vezina Trophy this past season, while winning the Jennings Trophy.
But if there’s one drawback to Gibson, it would be his relative inexperience. Even with the track record, tools and stat projections, there’s no telling what exactly will come of his play once he’s called upon to start 60-plus regular season games and be “the guy” who will be looked upon to lead Anaheim on a deep run through the playoffs — the expectation of the roster again this season.
It’s no secret that Ducks management is disappointed with how last season ended — the window could be closing in Anaheim soon and there’s too much elite talent on the roster to not make another run at the Stanley Cup. Anything short of a legitimate Stanley Cup run will be seen as disappointing for the Ducks this season and Gibson’s play will be under the microscope every step of the way.
He’s started all six NHL playoff games he has appeared in and has posted a record of 2-4 with a 2.84 GAA, a .912 save percentage and one shutout. They’re solid overall numbers, but if you solely look at his work from this past season’s series against Nashville, he went 0-2 and posted a GAA north of three and a save percentage of exactly .900, not exactly numbers that will concern the elite scorers of the Western Conference.
But despite all the new responsibility, the organization has given him everything he’ll need to succeed. He has a strong defense in front of him that features experience in Kevin Bieksa and a rising star in Sami Vatanen, a new goaltending coach in Sudarshan Maharaj and Bernier is a very capable backup who can push Gibson competitively during those dog days of the season.
Getting a chance to start for an elite club will be the chance of a lifetime for the former Kitchener Ranger, but much of the Ducks’ success from this point forward could hinge on the success of Gibson.