Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson did not receive a single Vezina Trophy vote from the NHL’s general managers last season, and given how well he played that result was probably one of the bigger omissions in the league’s awards voting. It is not that he should have won it, or even necessarily been a finalist, but to not get a single vote when obviously inferior goalies did was … curious.
Since becoming the Ducks’ starting goalie during the 2015-16 season Gibson has been one of the best in the business, and seems determined to have his best season yet in 2017-18. If Anaheim is going to avoid falling off the map in the Western Conference playoff picture they probably are going to need elite play from their goaltender given the early trends they have shown.
Entering the weekend the Ducks are off to a 3-0-1 start, which is pretty impressive when you consider they have been without several of the top forwards, including Corey Perry, Ondrej Kase, and Ryan Getzlaf.
Perry and Kase have yet to play and neither will be back in the lineup anytime soon, while Getzlaf has missed two games due to a groin injury. That is a lot of talent out of the lineup as all three were among the team’s top-five scorers a year ago. And the Ducks were not a great offensive team with them, finishing 18th in the league in goals scored. Take them out and it gets even worse.
Along with that lack of offense, this Ducks team also has the same calling card as every Randy Carlyle-coached team before it: They get completely dominated when it comes to the shot chart, meaning it is imperative that the goalie not only plays well, but is capable of carrying the team.
For all of the success Carlyle has had behind the bench in the NHL (and he has had a lot; winning a Stanley Cup and reaching in the Western Conference Final twice) his teams all tend to play the same way. They get outshot. Badly. No matter who is on the team, no matter what the talent level is, no matter what conference or division they are playing in, they get caved in when it comes to shots.
It was the case during his first stint in Anaheim. It was the case during his time in Toronto. It was the case as recently as last season.
It is, so far, once again the case this season.
Through four games the Ducks are last in the NHL in total shot attempt differential during 5-on-5 play. They are next-to-last in scoring chance differential. They are 25th in “high-danger” scoring chance differential. (All numbers via Natural Stat Trick.) Whether you put much stock in the analytics are not, it is hard to acknowledge that it is a winning formula to continue getting that badly outshot and outchanced over the course of a season.
Still, despite all of those shortcomings the Ducks have collected seven out of a possible eight point to start the year and have only allowed three even-strength goals (and only six goals overall).
Gibson is the single biggest reason for all of that.
As of Friday, he already posted a .955 save percentage in his first four starts. Given that two of their three wins have been by a single goal (a 1-0 win, and a 3-2 shootout win) and their only loss came in a shootout, it is not a stretch to say that if he had been even marginally worse during those first four games the Ducks’ record and early season outlook would easily be completely different at this point.
That is all probably a good indication of what to expect from the Ducks this season, especially as long as their top forwards are sidelined. In short, they are going to go as far as Gibson can carry them.
If that is the way your team is going to play, Gibson is probably one of the best options a team can have at this point. Of the 44 goalies that have appeared in at least 100 games since the start of the 2015-16 season, none of them have a higher save percentage than Gibson’s .925 mark. Despite that, he has only received a Vezina Trophy vote of any kind exactly one time, when he received a single second-place vote during the 2015-16 season when he helped the Ducks win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against in a season.
He will probably not have much margin for error this season, and if the Ducks keep leaning on him the way they have, and he continues to deliver, he might finally get that Vezina Trophy support he has yet to receive in his career. Maybe even more.