Only two teams appear to be real locks to come out of the Pacific Division, and if the door is left open for a surprise playoff entrant, the Ducks’ game-stealing goaltender might be able to propel them to a post-season berth.
John Gibson|Harry How/Getty Images
Among the things we probably didn’t think we’d see before the season would be the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks meeting in Week 2 with both teams sporting 2-0-0 records. But that’s exactly what’s happening tonight when the Red Wings host the Ducks.
The Red Wings have jumped out to their surprising start in large part due to the super line they’ve put together of Dylan Larkin between Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha, a player who is looking every bit another one of those classic Red Wing overripe prospects who benefitted from an extended stay in the minors. The Ducks, on the other hand, are much like the Red Wings in that they’re smack-dab in the middle of a rebuild, but this one seems to be more on the fly. The Ducks, though, have the luxury of having one of the best goalies, if not one of the most underrated, in the NHL to backstop the youth movement and be there as a safety net for the inevitable mistakes. And that is exactly what John Gibson is doing for them.
The Ducks have given up only two goals this season, with Gibson stopping 67 of 69 shots against. Now, averaging 34.5 shots against per game is clearly not a recipe for sustained success, unless your goaltender turns in a Vezina Trophy-type season, something Gibson is indeed capable of doing. In the two games he’s played, Gibson has faced 11 high-danger chances and stopped all but one of them. Gibson has never finished higher than seventh in Vezina voting – which is conducted among the league’s GMs – but at 26 and with more than 200 starts to his name, Gibson is ready to be a serious member of that conversation.
“I hope so,” Gibson said in the pre-season. “Obviously last year didn’t really go the way we wanted it to. I think we’re going to have a fresh start. We have some new faces, lost some guys. But I think we still have the belief in there, still have the guys – the core guys – and, for me, I just want to try to get better each and every year. I think I’ve done that the last few years, and I hope I can take another step forward this year.”
The small body of work for everyone in the NHL requires us to put things into perspective, but the early results are encouraging for both Gibson, who is expected to get his third straight start tonight, and the Ducks. Coach Dallas Eakins is in his second go-round in the best league in the world, presumably armed with better intel about handling NHL players than he had when he was thrown to the wolves with the Edmonton Oilers. The Ducks are counting on a number of their young prospects developing at the NHL level and making a contribution.
“I think we all know,” Gibson said of the pre-season prognostications for the Ducks. “I think, especially after you have a year like we had last year and the expectations aren’t going to be high, and especially when you lose some guys. But I think we’re all right with that. It’s a long year, and like you said, you never know what’s going to happen. Our focus is just on getting off to a good start. Last year that was kind of what killed us. We were so inconsistent. Hopefully we can get off to a good start, and carry on with that.”
After two games that has been accomplished. And the Ducks are in a division that is such a hodgepodge of teams that they might actually be able to contend for a playoff spot. (Remember, it’s early.) The Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames appear to be locks in a division that will likely produce only three playoff teams, but what about beyond that? With the San Jose Sharks off to a dreadful start (Have we mentioned it’s early?), there are possibilities for a team such as the Ducks, particularly if they can ride a hot goalie to a good start.
“You look at our division a couple of years ago, and it was good and maybe the other ones weren’t as good,” Gibson said. “It all depends. I feel like every year there’s surprise teams or surprise divisions. Last year, it was probably the Pacific Division. Maybe it could be again? You never know. I think you just have to go with it and see what happens.”
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.