John Gibson

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John Gibson deserves to be Vezina candidate, if not the winner

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If there’s one travesty come June when the NHL’s awards are handed out, it’s that John Gibson won’t be up on stage receiving the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s best goaltender.

Yes. John Gibson. An NHL goaltender on one of the worst teams in the league, a team that’s fighting for the right to pick first overall rather than raise a second Stanley Cup banner in Anaheim.

It might seem like insanity. Maybe it is.

The Vezina’s three finalists will probably look something like this: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop and Frederik Andersen.

Vasilevskiy, of course, because he’s an incredible goaltender playing on perhaps the best regular-season team in NHL history in the Tampa Bay Lightning. There’s a solid case to be made for a guy with six shutouts, a .927 save percentage and 37 wins entering Friday.

Bishop, because he leads the league with a .933 save percentage and has given a low-scoring Dallas Stars team every opportunity to be in the playoff position they’re in.

Andersen, because despite the milk carton defense in Toronto, has put together an impressive season sans help from his Maple Leafs teammates.

Their numbers are the shiny ones you see when you Google goalie statistics. Their names are atop the rankings of basic goaltending statistics.

They’re all elite goalies, don’t get me wrong, and this is taking nothing away from what they’ve accomplished.

But what John Gibson has done trumps them all.

Gibson’s numbers, on a surface level, look pedestrian. He’s posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average in 56 appearances this season. There are several guys ahead of him in that category and likely where the wheels begin to fall off in his Vezina case.

Are the NHL’s 31 general managers, who vote on the Vezina, going to dig much deeper? Probably not, and that’s where Gibson’s case comes to a screeching halt.

Here’s some truth: Gibson has saved more goals above the league average than any other goalie in the NHL this season. His goals-saved above average is 17.8, nearly a full goal and a half above Jaroslav Halak and more than a goal and a half more than Bishop. Andersen? Gibson’s got him beat by over 10 goals. Vasilevskiy? 16.

More truth: Among the 37 goalies this season that have played 1,500 minutes or more, Gibson ranks lowest with an expected save percentage of .913 in 5v5 situations when you factor in the type of shot quality he’s faced. His adjusted save percentage when look at the difference in his actual save percentage of .927 and the expect numbers, you arrive a 1.37, fourth best in the NHL, meaning that Gibson is well above the average of what he should be given the quality of shots he’s faced.

Speaking of quality and the number of shots faced, Gibson has seen more high-danger shots fired his way (299) than any other goalie in the league, and despite this, he’s managed a .823 save percentage, good for ninth best — higher than Andersen and Vasilevskiy. Bishop (.854, 207 shots against) is third, but has seen 92 less high-danger shots.

One more thing: Gibson has seen the fifth-most shots against per 60 minutes played, just slightly behind Andersen, both of whom are well ahead of Bishop and Vasilevskiy.

All these numbers aren’t just for show. They’re important statistics that show just how incredible Gibson’s season has been with the Ducks.

Recency bias won’t help his cause. People will say his season was front-loaded as the Ducks surprised a lot of people with their playoff positioning early on. Does Andersen get the same treatment? Does Vasilevskiy get dinged for the fact he’s blessed by an offensive and defensive juggernaut in front of him?

But don’t blame Gibson because his back broke from carrying the team so hard. Without him, the lowest scoring team in the NHL might be giving the 1974-75 Washington Capitals a run for their money for worst record ever.

Look, all four of these goalies deserve Vezina recognition. There are others, too. Robin Lehner on Long Island, Pekka Rinne in country music’s capital, Marc-Andre Fleury in Sin City.

The point of this exercise is this: often we write off great players on bad teams. Connor McDavid not deserving the Hart Trophy because he plays for the Edmonton Oilers is just one example. The problem with this mindset is we miss the exceptional that gets neglected because of it.

People will brush off a season like Gibson is having, saying his surface statistics are nothing to write home about and will continue along their merry way.

And that’s a shame, because if the Vezina is truly an award for the best goalie in NHL, then Gibson deserves to be, at the very least, in the room in Las Vegas later this June, if not on the stage saying his thank yous.

(Stats courtesy of Corsica)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bright side to Ducks placing John Gibson on IR

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For a significant portion of this season, John Gibson‘s been able to carry the Anaheim Ducks. Eventually that burden overwhelmed him, and with the team crumbling, he’s been placed on IR because of a combination of head/back/neck issues.

“He got whacked a whole bunch on one play,” Ducks GM/interim head coach Bob Murray said, according to TSN’s Jeff Paterson. “He’s just not right anywhere up there.”

This is obviously mostly bad news. You never want to see a player deal with anything neck-or-head related, as those issues can linger for a long time, sometimes for an entire career, whether that stems from aggravating ailments or never fully healing at all.

It certainly didn’t look good when Gibson was bowled over by his own teammate on a Matt Duchene goal earlier this month.

Yet, it’s tough to blame a segment of the Ducks fandom if they feel a little relief.

Sometimes NHL goalies feel a bit like NFL running backs, at least during the days when NFL running backs were workhorses (as opposed to the seemingly replaceable pieces they are now). From Shaun Alexander to other heavily used RBs, the worry was that you’d hit a certain threshold for carries, and then a running back would never be the same. Such thought processes also apply to MLB pitchers, and really any sporting position where wear and tear can really bring quality of play down.

The NHL tends to lag behind other leagues when it comes to embracing innovations in fields like “sports science,” so discussions of fatigue for goalies are really only cropping up now, and Gibson could be one of the make-or-break cases.

In the instance of 2018-19, the Ducks have often been breaking Gibson.

No goalie has faced more shots (1,434) or made more saves (1,311) than Gibson this season, and it’s not just about sheer physical fatigue. By just about every measure, the Ducks leave Gibson out to dry, such as allowing almost seven more shots per game than they generate. Anaheim’s asking Gibson to bail them out on an almost by-game basis, and when you’re not getting support, frustration can really build up. Especially when you’re losing as often as the Ducks have been lately.

When discussing fatigue last season, both Braden Holtby and Andrei Vasilevskiy pointed to the mental side as much as the physical. That might sound corny, but it makes sense that the psychological stress matters too. Goalies need to do the more meat-and-potatoes work of studying video for tendencies in opponents. They need to get in whatever headspace they need to prepare for games. And, like an NFL defensive back, they have to find ways to shake off setbacks, whether the goals allowed were truly their fault or not.

If the Ducks were looking better, maybe Gibson would force himself to fight through the pain. In that situation, maybe there’d be spoken or unspoken pressure for him to do so.

With that in mind, this trip to the IR could be a blessing in disguise, or at least provide a silver lining. Making Gibson absorb more of this mess – mentally and physically – doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

And, hey, it gives everyone more time to come up with funny ways to refer to Bob Murray’s many roles.

(And, yes, it helps the Ducks’ tanking goals, if you’re looking at things that way.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

John Gibson’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad All-Star Game period

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SAN JOSE — Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson was given the nod to start the first half of the opening game of the 2019 NHL All-Star 3-on-3 tournament against the Central Division. He didn’t enjoy his 10 minutes of action in the defense-optional game, however.

The Pacific Division featured three hometown San Jose Sharks — Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns — so the SAP Center was revved up and ready to cheer. Well, about that. The Ducks netminder had a first half to forget allowing seven goals on nine shots faced. Patrick Kane and Mikko Rantanen would score twice.

“Oh, we left him out to dry,” said Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. “Breakaways and 2-on-1s all night.”

The Sharks fans in attendance didn’t appreciate his performance and not only started an anti-Ducks chant, but also directed a Bronx cheer his way after he made one of his two saves.

“It seems like sometimes it always goes in,” said Gibson. “It happens.”

According to the NHL, the seven goals scored in the first half tied a record under this All-Star formate set by the Metropolitan Division in 2017.

“It’s all in good fun,” Gibson said. “Obviously, nobody is ever happy about it, but it’s an event and you have fun with it.”

The crowd did have one thing to cheer for during that forgettable period: Karlsson scoring on a breakaway for the Pacific’s only goal.

The Central would advance to the final game with a 10-4 victory.

MORE:
NHL All-Star Skills 2019: Winners, funny moments, Gritty
All-Star MVP adds to Crosby’s ‘great memories’ of San Jose
Sharks soak in the love from fans during NHL All-Star Weekend

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The bleeding ends: Ducks finally halt record losing streak

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The agony is over.

The Anaheim Ducks have won for the first time in 2019 (and the first time since a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 17), snapping a 12-game losing skid that earned the title of a franchise record.

Yes, the bleeding has ended, due in large part to John Gibson, who has been the one constant during the winless stretch. Gibson stopped 37 shots, including 10 on the power play for the shutout in a 3-0 win against the Minnesota Wild.

The Ducks got goals from Adam Henrique, Brian Gibbons and Rickard Rakell.

Devin Shore, who the Ducks picked up earlier this week in a trade that sparked the first of four in the span of 72 hours, added an assist. Derek Grant, who the Ducks traded for in a flurry of deals late Wednesday, played 16:21.

While Bob Murray’s moves didn’t dent the scoresheet too much, they certainly sent a message to the locker room. To be fair to the Ducks, they had been playing better as of late, only to have a couple games slip through the cracks, including a 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets and a 7-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that should have been an Anaheim win if not for an epic implosion.

But that’s all history now with the losing streak coming to an end.

The Ducks won six of their first seven games in December and still sit in a three-way tie for the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference. With Gibson’s Vezina-caliber season so far, and the fact that a lot of teams in the West seem disinterested in distancing themselves from one another, the Ducks have as good a chance as any to sneak in the backdoor.

Breaking that losing streak was the start. What happens over the next few weeks is the next test.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Buzzer: Gibson – Rinne trumps Kesler – Johansen

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho

Monday was a big night for Sebastian Aho, Forward Version.

He was one of only two players to generate two points – so, yeah, Monday was pretty big for goalies – and his overtime goal was so smooth (and so funny at Brent Seabrook‘s expense) that it got its own post.

Aho generated the lone assist on Teuvo Teravainen‘s power-play goal, which helped Carolina get back into the game after falling behind 2-0 to Cam Ward and the Chicago Blackhawks.

By the way, Ward doesn’t make it to the three stars, but he managed 37 saves in his return to Carolina. Worth a mention, especially for a goalie who feels very far removed from his glory days with the Hurricanes franchise.

2. John Gibson

Heading into Monday’s contest in Anaheim, the buzz surrounded Ryan Kesler and Ryan Johansen. Would the two brawl in the parking lot, like an “Attitude Era” episode of Monday Night Raw? Perhaps they would settle their dispute by gorging on goals?

Nope.

Instead, Gibson and Pekka Rinne lived up to their 2018-19 reputations as two of the best goalies (if not the two best, full-stop) in the NHL. The contest went into the shootout 1-1, but Gibson was the netminder who finished with the W, with Gibson making 34 saves (including 10 in overtime) while Rinne stopped 29 shots.

As talented as both are and as productive as they’ve been really since last season, it’s tough to imagine them avoiding the natural pull of regression, at least to some extent. With that in mind, it was nice to see those two goalies carry their outstanding work into that game, and then deliver with a true goalie duel.

The Predators lost their first road game via the shootout, yet they kept their away point streak alive. The Ducks needed this much more, even if this sticks to the script of Gibson being an all-world, MVP-caliber goalie.

3. Cam Atkinson

You can thank Aho, Rinne, and Gibson for the headline not being something Atkinson Diet-related.

(Stashes that already-extremely-dusty joke for later.)

Atkinson joined Aho as one of two players to generate two points on a low-scoring Monday. While Atkinson didn’t generate the GWG like Aho did, he bares the distinction of being involved in all of Columbus’ goals in a tight win against the Stars. This was a nasty affair at times, as you can see from this fight between Jamie Benn and Josh Anderson.

As strong a night as Atkinson enjoyed, the Blue Jackets might most heartened by the possibility that Sergei Bobrovsky could be back in the zone.

Highlights

Rinne didn’t get the win, but he probably made the most ludicrous save, although there were enough great ones in this that I could be wrong.

Anton Khudobin couldn’t grab a win or even a point for Dallas in that tense, tight game against Columbus, but he did make this save.

Speaking of nice saves in losing efforts, here’s the best from Cam Ward:

Again, Aho’s OTGWG was quite something, so check it out here.

Factoids

Maybe the Hurricanes’ barrage of shots wasn’t a product of Bill Peters? Or maybe they haven’t forgotten his lessons?

Henrik Lundqvist continues to make history, and the Rangers are quietly heating up. If you want to tank, Lundqvist isn’t exactly your guy.

Scores

NYR 2 – VAN 1
CAR 3 – CHI 2 (OT)
CBJ 2 – DAL 1
ANA 2 – NSH 1 (SO)

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.