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Column: Ducks goalie John Gibson has been excellent, but he needs support from offense

Ducks goaltender John Gibson, center, is congratulated by Derek Grant (38) and Jani Hakanpaa (28)
Ducks goaltender John Gibson, center, is congratulated by Derek Grant (38) and Jani Hakanpaa (28) after making 34 saves during a shutout win over the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 18 at Honda Center.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Probing the psyche of NHL goaltenders is a difficult task. The fortitude that enables them to face vulcanized rubber pucks flying toward them at 100 mph also makes them reluctant to discuss what they do — and even more reluctant to view themselves as supermen for preventing unreasonable numbers of pucks from getting past them.

And so it was, after Ducks goalie John Gibson made 34 saves in a 1-0 victory over Minnesota on Monday at Honda Center, he barely shrugged when asked about the enormous weight he carried while leading the Ducks to a win in their home opener and their first triumph in three games this season.

“It’s not up to me,” he said. “My job is to just stop the puck, so whether I get 10, 20 or 30, I mean, it’s my job and it’s what I’ve got to do.”

He does it well. He also gets a lot of practice.

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Last season, behind a porous defense that got little help from the forwards, Gibson faced 1,613 shots in 53 games, the fifth-most shots any NHL goalie faced and an average of 30.43 shots per game. He often kept a bad team from being embarrassingly awful.

On Monday, with the Ducks’ defense depleted when defenseman Josh Manson sustained an upper-body injury late in the first period, Gibson was tested repeatedly and was up to each challenge. He had to be: The Ducks, who ranked 30th in the NHL in goals per game last season, have scored only four goals this season and haven’t converted any of their five power-play opportunities.

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Gibson, 27, became the fourth goalie in Ducks’ franchise history to record 20 shutouts, joining Jean-Sebastien Giguere (32), Guy Hebert (27) and Jonas Hiller (21). He also reduced his goals-against average at this early stage to 2.03 and increased his save percentage to a sparkling .937 while facing an average of just under 30 shots per game.

“He’s been outstanding the last three games. And he gives us a chance to win every time,” said winger Nicolas Deslauriers, who took a feed from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and one-timed it past Minnesota goalie Cam Talbot for the Ducks’ goal, at 4:09 of the third period.

Gibson’s best stretch came during a 14-save second period that included stops on three dangerous chances during a Minnesota power play. “On every play, even those really quick plays down from there’s a turnover or they’ve done a good job checking and bang, it’s right to the slot, he just looks so calm and so square and so big in the net,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said.

“I always think when a goalie’s playing really well he makes big saves look really easy, and that’s certainly what he looked like tonight. He’s certainly dialed in and he’s faced a lot of work here, early. But he’s been excellent.”

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Ducks defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk pushes Minnesota Wild left wing Jordan Greenway against the boards.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Gibson credited the team’s defensemen for their help, and that praise was deserved. Shattenkirk, who signed a three-year contract as a free agent before this season, played a game-high 29 minutes and eight seconds. His defense partner, Hampus Lindholm, was one second behind. The Ducks were credited with 14 blocked shots as a team, led by center Adam Henrique’s three blocks.

“They all had to play well,” Gibson said of the remaining defensemen. “I think everybody stepped up, especially on the penalty kill, blocking shots. Minnesota is a good team, especially in front of the net.”

Manson didn’t practice on Tuesday. Eakins said the veteran defenseman was “really tender” and will be evaluated on Wednesday, before the Ducks play host to Minnesota again. “We’re hoping that it settles down but my experience is that a guy doesn’t finish a game, it’s pretty rare he gets in that next one,” Eakins said. “We are crossing our fingers.” Andy Welinski, like Manson a right-handed shooter, would likely step in if needed. Kodie Curran also is a candidate. Defenseman Ben Hutton, a former King who signed a one-year deal with the Ducks last week, practiced with his new team for the first time on Tuesday but isn’t yet at full speed.

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Eakins is concerned about the early lack of offense, but that’s merely one item on his list. “We’re concerned about everything,” he said. “We’re concerned about how many goals we’re scoring, so we want to stay on that. We’re concerned with the number of goals that we give up, so we’re going to stay on that. We’re concerned about our power play, our penalty kill. We’re concerned about everything. Everything.”

At least they don’t have to be concerned about their penalty killing — which is seven for seven — or about Gibson’s goaltending, which is a key reason their penalty killers have been successful.

The Kings’ 4-3 loss to Minnesota was a mishmash of good and bad that shouldn’t have happened, even in a season opener that followed a 10-month break.

The only support Gibson got on Monday resulted from a clever play that featured Carter Rowney driving to the net. Rowney passed to his right to Shattenkirk, who held the puck before sliding a perfectly timed pass that Deslauriers snapped into the upper-left corner of the net from the bottom of the left circle. A few more goals like that — and maybe a goal or two during their rare manpower advantages — would mean Gibson won’t have to operate with such thin margins while carrying a weighty load most games. Just because he can handle a lot of shots doesn’t mean he should have to do that on a regular basis.

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“I just think the best is yet to come from him,” Eakins said. “I think he’s really, really maturing not only into an excellent goaltender but as a man, too. He’s got a family now. He’s got a lot going on in his life. I think it’s suiting him very well.”

Carrying a heavy load suits Gibson and as long as he withstands that pressure, the Ducks have a hope of contending for one of the four West division playoff berths in this pandemic-shortened season. If they gave him some help carrying that load, their hopes could turn into something more solid.


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