There’s absolutely no reason the Anaheim Ducks should be first place in the Pacific Division. None whatsoever. And while, yes, we realize it’s still early in the season and one win can change the entire makeup of the divisional standings at this point in the campaign, it’s still somehow baffling that the Ducks find themselves atop the Pacific.
First, consider that the Ducks are rivalling the Ottawa Senators when it comes to injury misfortune. Corey Perry is sidelined well into the campaign, likely out of action until February. Ondrej Kase, seen as a potential top-line replacement for Perry, suffered a concussion and has no timeline for return. Patrick Eaves, who hasn’t played in more than a year, is on the shelf with a shoulder ailment. The Ducks are also still awaiting the return of Ryan Getzlaf from a groin injury, and just when Anaheim thought it couldn’t get any worse, Jakub Silfverberg appears as though he’ll miss at least a game or two with a fractured finger tip.
Worse than the injuries, though, has been the Ducks’ play. No one is going to argue with results — wins are wins, after all — but there are some red flags in Anaheim that are impossible to ignore. In particular, the Ducks’ abysmal underlying numbers. At 5-on-5, Anaheim has been the league’s worst possession team through two weeks of the season with a 40.2 Corsi for percentage, and that poor possession rate is paired with the worst shots for percentage (41.7), worst scoring chances for percentage (37.4) and second-worst high-danger scoring chances for percentage (37.6) in the NHL as of Friday morning. And for those who care not for advanced statistics, how about this: Anaheim has been outshot by an average of 11.9 shots per game. The Ducks have 168 shots for and 251 against.
Yet, despite the injuries, despite being outshot by nearly a dozen shots per game, despite giving up scoring chances at an almost two-to-one rate, Anaheim has the best record in the Pacific, dropping only three of a possible 14 points through seven games. And it’s because of John Gibson.
Gibson has been nothing short of brilliant through the early season for the Ducks. Given how tilted the ice has been in Anaheim’s outings, it should come as no surprise that he leads the league with 213 saves, but Gibson is also at or near the top of the league in the other major goaltending statistics. Among goaltenders with three games played, Gibson’s .948 save percentage ranks second, his 1.89 goals-against average sixth, he’s already posted a shutout and of the 38 qualified netminders, Gibson’s tied for 15th with only 11 goals against thus far.
All the more excellent, however, are Gibson’s advanced statistics, which really illustrate how much of a difference-maker the netminder has been. In fact, the 5-on-5 numbers indicate the type of pressure Gibson has been under in Anaheim, and it only further highlights his strong play. According to Natural Stat Trick, the 25-year-old has faced more high-danger shots against than any other goaltender (49) and more medium-danger shots against than any other goaltender (45). Beyond that, the Ducks keeper has faced more second-effort shots, as well. His 23 rebound shots against are the most in the league. Still, though, Gibson has maintained a .964 SP at five-a-side, which ranks third among netminders with at least three games played.
It’s the advanced metric goals saved above average, or GSAA, that puts the cherry on top of Gibson’s early season performance, though. What GSAA measures is the numbers of goals a netminder has stopped — or, conversely, allowed — against the expected performance of a perfectly league-average netminder. For instance, a goaltender with a GSAA of zero is performing exactly as one would expect given the difficulty of his workload, whereas any positive number indicates more goals saved than an average keeper and a negative numbers signifies more goals allowed. So, what’s Gibson’s GSAA? At 5-on-5, it’s 7.2 and it increases to 8.65 when taking all strengths into account. Both are the top marks in the league, the former by nearly one-fifth of a goal, the latter by more than one and a half goals.
But nothing about Gibson’s play should really be at all surprising, particularly not to those who’ve been keeping a close eye on the Ducks netminder over the past two seasons. He’s been one of the best netminders since the start of the 2016-17 campaign. There are 35 goaltenders who have appeared in at least 80 games since the start of the 2016-17 campaign. At 5-on-5, Gibson ranks fourth in SP (.933), seventh in high-danger SP (.846) and fourth in GSAA (28.9). At all strengths, though, Gibson tops the charts in SP (.927), sits fifth in high-danger SP (.842) and his 49.2 GSAA is the league’s best.
It’s still too early to talk about awards candidates and so much can change so quickly at this point in the campaign. We can, however, say that given what those numbers tell us about his past performance, Gibson has to be one of the least appreciated netminders in the league.
Not a single GM — and it’s GMs who vote on the top goaltender honor — has given Gibson a Vezina Trophy vote in the past two seasons. Not even a second- or third-place nod. And that’s somewhat puzzling given his base statistics are even impressive. He had twin fourth-place finishes in GAA and SP in 2016-17, though his 52 games played were 11 fewer than winner Sergei Bobrovsky. In 2017-18, Gibson finished fourth in SP and eighth in GAA while playing in 60 games. Marc-Andre Fleury (47 GP), Tuukka Rask (54 GP), Roberto Luongo (35 GP) and winner Pekka Rinne (59 GP) all played fewer games. (That’s not to mention Rinne’s SP was one-thousandth of a point better than Gibson’s, but we digress.)
But through the first two weeks of the season, Gibson has been an undeniable story, the catalyst the Ducks staving off potential early season disaster despite their injury-ravaged roster and awful advanced statistics. As Anaheim gets healthy, there’s hope things will improve around Gibson. And if the Ducks beat the injury bug and Gibson continues to perform as he has, let’s hope he gets some well-deserved attention come season’s end.