Through the first few games of the season, it seemed like the Anaheim Ducks might get away with their “hoping John Gibson stops everything” plan.
With injuries sidelining and/or limiting the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry, Gibson propped up a threadbare Ducks roster, helping Anaheim win its first three games and begin the 2018-19 campaign with a 5-1-1 record.
As great as Gibson seems to be when healthy, even he can only do so much. The Ducks are now on a four-game losing streak, and it sounds like Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Dallas Stars made Ryan Getzlaf snap.
“We’ve got to play hockey,” Getzlaf said, via the OC Register’s Elliott Teaford. “It’s (expletive) embarrassing. The way we play defense and the way we swing our sticks around and not help our goalie (John Gibson). I got asked the other day if I thought we hung him out to dry and I said, no. My answer has changed now.”
Getzlaf’s calls for action are mix of reasonable-enough (they need to do a better job of exiting their zone with crisp, smart passing) and boilerplate stuff that might extend from Randy Carlyle (being more physical and not … waving your stick around?).
Really, though, Getzlaf gets a larger point. It’s not that the Ducks are suddenly playing poor defense; it’s that they could only get away with it for so long.
Case in point: somehow, this goal came from … Roman Polak? *rubs eyes in disbelief*
So far, Gibson has faced 335 shots, while Henrik Lundqvist is a distant second at 263. While games played skew the numbers a bit, the Ducks’ 38.2 shots allowed per game is the worst mark in the NHL, and by a healthy margin of 1.8 per contest more than second-worst Pittsburgh. It’s no surprise that Anaheim currently has an astoundingly bad Corsi For percentage (40.77 at even-strength, easily the worst in the league, via Natural Stat Trick), and they’ve also allowed the most high-danger chances against.
Simply put, they’ve been propped up by one of the best goalies in the world in Gibson. Even after Anaheim’s lost some of the luck, his 2018-19 save percentage is a splendid .940, and it goes up to a remarkable .951 when you consider even-strength only.
Sean Tierney’s chart on Goals Saved Against Average really hammers the point home about Gibson being on another level so far this season:
The Ducks have also been incredibly lucky that Ryan Miller‘s quietly been absolutely outstanding as a backup. He hasn’t been in the crease much yet (three games, two starts), yet the former workhorse sports a .938 save percentage this season and generated a remarkable .928 save percentage in 28 games for Anaheim last season.
Considering some of the brilliant young talent the Ducks have on their blueline, it’s tough not to put a lot of the blame on Carlyle’s system. The former Maple Leafs coach’s teams have been infamously bad from a possession standpoint, and it’s difficult to ignore how lopsided Anaheim’s start has been.
To some extent, that boils down to circumstances, as the Ducks haven’t exactly been loaded with the sort of forwards who are going to hog the puck in the attacking zone.
Whatever the reasons might be, this is a serious concern for Anaheim. They’re down to 5-5-1 despite enjoying incredible goaltending. If Getzlaf’s stern, sometimes profane words don’t help the Ducks ease Gibson’s burden, it could be a long season.
MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.