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Long night for Vezina-worthy John Gibson at NHL All-Star game

Long night for Vezina-worthy John Gibson at NHL All-Star game
Central Division's Mikko Rantanen (96) scores a goal against Pacific Division's John Gibson during the NHL All-Star Game in San Jose on Saturday. (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Ducks goaltender John Gibson has faced more shots than any other NHL goalie this season, a staggering 1,361 shots in 43 games. He also has made more saves than anyone else, 1,251, an impressive .919 save percentage. He is a legitimate candidate for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie, recognition for his excellence in keeping the injury-plagued, slump-stricken Ducks from plummeting completely out of the West playoff chase.

None of that changed on Saturday, even though his performance for the Pacific Division All-Stars fell well below the level that often makes him the only barrier between the Ducks and disaster. Gibson had a bad day on the national stage, giving up seven goals on nine shots by the Central Division in his half of their three-on-three mini-game. The Pacific team had won two of the previous three championships played under this All-Star format but absorbed a 10-4 pummeling on Saturday and didn’t reach the final.

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The Metropolitan All-Stars prevailed by defeating the Atlantic Division 7-4 and the Central 10-5. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, who was too ill to compete in Friday’s skills events, defied the NHL’s trend toward youth by scoring four goals and eight points to win most valuable player honors at age 31. “It’s scary to come to these after a couple of years and realize you’re much more the older guy,” said Crosby, who accepted the Stanley Cup and playoff MVP honors at SAP Center in 2016 after the Penguins’ six-game victory over the Sharks.

The winners will split $1 million and the losers will share pleasant memories of a well-organized event. The Pacific team also will carry regrets about utterly failing to support Gibson. “We left him out to dry,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said, a genuine sympathetic gesture to a regular-season rival. “Breakaways and two-on-ones all night.”

Not much different from what Gibson faces with the Ducks, really, but more painful because of the occasion. Fans began to chant, “We want Fleury,” hoping Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury would salvage the division’s honor, but that was impossible. “They were, just shift after shift, scoring, scoring, scoring. We kind of knew once it was 7-1 that we were pretty screwed,” Doughty said. “We were laughing, but I think we were laughing because we were so embarrassed that we were playing so bad. It sucked. And when they were doing that to Gibson too ... we felt bad for him. It sucks losing by that much, for sure.”

Gibson acknowledged the performance “wasn’t my best,” but seemed to take it all fairly well. “It’s an All-Star game and you’re out there with some of the best players in the league and stuff is going to happen,” he said. “It’s for fun. You still care a little bit, but it is what it is and hopefully whoever’s here next year will be a little bit better.”

Despite the rout, Gibson said he enjoyed his second All-Star appearance. He grew up in Pittsburgh admiring Fleury, then playing for the Penguins, and Gibson was glad of the chance to speak with and play alongside his onetime favorite.

That’s what he will remember from this, not the score or the shellacking. “It’s all in good fun,” Gibson said. “No one’s ever happy about it, but it’s an event and you have fun with it.”

Fleury was relaxed enough about the whole thing to travel to the arena on a scooter, a common sight on the streets of San Jose but probably uncommon for someone of his profession and stature. He also said he had a good time, though he felt sorry for the Ducks goalie’s ordeal. “I was kind of a little happy to be on the bench at that time,” Fleury said, smiling. “You want to do well but you’re also facing very talented players. It’s not easy.”

The format was successful again, producing 40 goals in three games and dozens of spectacular passes. The traditional format, with its lack of hitting, didn’t represent the sport. Three-on-three is exciting, and the potential of playing in two mini-games creates quick camaraderie among players. “It’s way better than the old one, for sure,” Doughty said. “I think fans love seeing the goals. Two-on-ones and breakaways all night, that’s the fun part of hockey.”

It wasn’t so pleasant for Gibson as the target of those two-on-ones and breakaways. But he’s confident enough in his abilities to put Saturday’s debacle behind him and prepare to continue his nearly one-man crusade to salvage the Ducks’ season. They’re off until Feb. 2, when they face the Jets at Winnipeg.

“I haven’t had my break yet so I’m definitely going to look forward these next four days and kind of just mentally shut off,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do. It comes from us. I don’t think we can look around the room and think it’s going to come from one guy. We need to come together. It seems like, what [team captain Ryan Getzlaf] said after the last game, we can’t come out to play sometimes. After everything we’ve gone through we’re still so close to a playoff spot, so hopefully everybody can regroup after this break and come back with a fresh mind-set.”

Gibson will still be a Vezina candidate when they come back, and a worthy one.

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