Nothing needed to be said, but a very key unspoken plan was clearly the objective Friday night in Anaheim: Get goaltender John Gibson his first win.
The Ducks won their seventh straight Friday night, doing so with a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Honda Center. Anaheim still hasn’t lost since the season-opener, when their rookie goalie, the one who showed such poise and skill in the playoffs last season, was dealt a 6-4 loss in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Gibson hadn’t played since, save two AHL games last weekend when he asked to go down to the minors to get playing time. Goalie Frederik Andersen hasn’t lost since. So a big opponent like Columbus was his chance to make a statement.
Gibson effectively made one by allowing only a single goal, and his team made its own statement, as well.
"I never said anything at all, but I would think that we have a good group in there with a bunch of teammates," said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. "And when you have a good bunch of teammates, they want to pick up when everyone is down and when someone on your team is down. Consequently, he hadn’t played since that first game, so I think both John and the team wanted to buckle down for him."
Gibson was aided by a unit in front of him that severely limited the Blue Jackets’ possessions and an early power-play tally by the league’s goals and points leader, Corey Perry. Columbus was out-shot 34-17 and the one goal allowed was sort of a fluke, as Gibson attempted to clear the crease and the puck bounced off of a defenseman and back around him.
"Any time you can get out to an early lead, it relieves some stress," Gibson said. "We’ve been keeping shots down so it makes Freddie’s job and my job a lot easier."
Gibson played two games last weekend for the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, going 1-1 and allowing six goals with 55 saves. Going to Norfolk was voluntary; Gibson wanted playing time. It was difficult with Andersen riding his streak and he didn’t want to get stale. His teammates applauded the move and approved of his performance enough to warrant him a start against a 2014 playoff team that averages around three goals per game.
"He went back, played some games in the minors and obviously came back playing really well," said captain Ryan Getzlaf. "That’s a good thing to see out of a young goaltender."
Friday’s game was the first in a brutal stretch in which the Ducks will face six straight teams that all made playoff appearances this season and four on the road, including a back-to-back against St. Louis and Dallas. Andersen is expected to start Sunday against San Jose so Gibson may not be back right away, but Boudreau said he is seeing enough to warrant more time for his young goalie.
"Maybe because he’s young and we don’t want a young goalie up here sitting down when we could be playing him," Boudreau said. "At the same time, he’s earned his spot up here, so we figured this was a really good spot to play. He’s had some really good practices. He was ready."