Skating into Jan. 30 action, the 2021 Anaheim Ducks, in eight games played, sit at 3-3-2 (eight points) and are firmly positioned in sixth out of eight Honda West Division teams.
Now, the obvious remains the obvious, here – while the NHL has definitely seen its fair share of surprises, the rebuilding Ducks, for all intents and purposes, will more than likely remain on the bottom rung of the standings as the season progresses.
Even still, Anaheim, while definitely not as deep in roster construction when compared to other franchises, certainly has intriguing options at their disposal. Should these skaters take a significant leap, perhaps the Ducks make some noise.
For it to happen, one of their premier skaters will need to keep the ball (or puck?) rolling. This skater, however, does not make his living by scoring the puck, but by defending against it.
The Anaheim skater who fits the bill (no pun intended) is no one other than former 2011 second-round pick in John Gibson himself.
The 27-year-old’s reputation as a capable netminder speaks for itself. Heading into the 2021 season, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native, in 287 games played (279 games started), went 139-103-33 and possessed a career 2.53 Goals Against Average (GAA), .918 Save Percentage (Sv%) and 19 shutouts. Coupled with experience in the postseason (Gibson has a 2.80 GAA, .912 Sv% and one shutout in 26 career Stanley Cup Playoff outings), and it should be a relatively unanimous take that the Ducks have a top-tier goaltender under their wings.
While Gibson has already garnered solid numbers together through the years, his 2021 season has taken off like close to no other, and despite Anaheim’s lackadaisical record this early on, it should be recognized. After all, Gibson has started in seven of Anaheim’s eight games this year and has scorched his way to one of the better starts to a season in his career.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, now. Before comparing his season numbers through his seven games played, lets backtrack and look at where Gibson stands right now among other NHL goaltenders. Heading into Jan. 30 play, Gibson is tied for second in games started with seven (Mikko Koskinen of the Edmonton Oilers is first with nine). While Gibson has three wins this season (tied for sixth), other areas also paint a significant picture. Among 27 goaltenders who have started at least five games this season, Gibson’s 13 total goals allowed is tied for ninth. While this is certainly a respectable ranking in and of itself, his GAA takes it a step further, as his 1.87 mark ranks third, behind Semyon Varlamov (1.82) and Philipp Grubauer (1.86).
Then, there is his save percentage. Oh, but not just the base version of save percentage. Sure, his complete Sv% of .942 ranks first among all NHL goaltenders who have started at least five games, but what about his even-strength save percentage (EV Sv%) or power play save percentage (PP Sv%)? When looking at the same requirement (at least five games started), Gibson’s .940 EV Sv% ranks fifth among those 27 goaltenders, while his .944 PP Sv% is tied for fourth.
This is certainly all fine and dandy, but then again, so are Gibson’s two shutouts to his credit already this season. This total is tied for first among all NHL goaltenders (Petr Mrazek, Varlamov and Grubauer also have two).
Speaking of shutouts, let’s get back to Gibson’s season comparisons through his first seven games. Aside from a brief cup of coffee during the 2013-14 season (he only played in three games), Gibson has put together seven straight campaigns where he has started at least seven games. What makes Gibson’s 2021 start so impressive is the fact that it is his first season since the 2015-16 season where he collected at least two shutouts through his first seven games played. Additionally, his collective Sv% through the first seven games this season (which, again, is .942) is his third highest through his first seven games (he had a .949 Sv% during the 2018-19 season and a .944 Sv% during the 2015-16 season).
Gibson’s 2021 season, though, when looking at the team’s first eight games, makes him stand alone among all Anaheim goaltenders when looking at one specific area. Within Anaheim’s eight games played so far this season, their two shutouts were attributed to Gibson. Gibson is the only Anaheim goaltender to ever collect two shutouts within the team’s first eight games to start a season.
While it would not be a scorching take to claim Anaheim’s likely struggles in the standings this season, one facet will remain steadfast. While the Ducks’ rebuild will look toward other areas of the roster, they will have a top-tier goaltender at their disposal to lead the way.