Randy Carlyle has a difficult decision to make before the start of the playoffs.
On February 22nd, it was announced that the Anaheim Ducks’ starting goaltender, John Gibson, would miss their game against the Boston Bruins because of a lower body injury, causing the Ducks’ fan base to let out a collective groan. Gibson was reliable. At the time, he had a 23-15-8 record coupled with a 2.24 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage, while posting five shutouts, including two earlier that month against the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild.
With the injury, Carlyle had to look to Jonathan Bernier, who had been less than spectacular. He had started the game before Gibson’s injury, a 3-2 loss against the Arizona Coyotes, but allowed three goals off six shots and was pulled after the first period. His record at the time was 8-5-2 with 2.93 GAA and .901 SV%.
Still, after the game, Carlyle said, “Looks bad on (Bernier), but I think you have to blame this one on his teammates.”
Bernier Heats Up
At the time, considering the team’s inconsistent play, the last thing the Ducks needed was an injury to Gibson; yet, Bernier was a pleasant surprise.
After missing six games – during which Bernier boosted a 4-2 record – Gibson was ready for action. However, his return may have been premature. After playing one game, a 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues, Gibson was sidelined again with a lower body injury.
That was on March 10th, and since then, Bernier has been on fire. He was 10-1-2 in March, leading all goaltenders in wins. He also earned his second shutout of the year against the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of the Western Conference. Even in the Ducks’ disappointing loss to the Winnipeg Jets on the March 30th, when they gave up a 3-1 lead in the third period, allowing the Jets to force overtime, Bernier played well. He stopped 37 of 41 shots, including this timely save on Mark Scheifele shot on the power play:
A Difficult Conundrum
Even though Bernier has played extremely well of late, he is still the backup goalie and was only playing because Gibson was indisposed. Before he was injured, Gibson was solid in net. During January, the month before the injury, he was 8-3-1, while playing in every game but two. He helped the Ducks win their only two overtime victories this season. During that month, he had an impressive .946 save percentage and a 1.59 goals-against average, leading all starting goaltenders in both categories.
All year, Gibson has been the more reliable goaltender, but with only a couple of games remaining in the regular season, he may be out of practice. On April 1st, he played in his first game since returning from the second flare-up of his lower body injury. The Ducks dropped their tenth overtime loss of the season to the Edmonton Oilers, but the loss wasn’t necessarily Gibson’s fault.
Here’s what happened:
After Ducks captain, Ryan Getzlaf, skated into the Oilers’ zone, he slipped, causing a 2-1 breakaway the other way and leaving only Hampus Lindholm to defend. The league’s leading point scorer, Connor McDavid, was the one to pick up the puck. He fed it to Leon Draisaitl, who scored off a one-timer, a shot that would have been difficult for anyone to face.
Even though Gibson wasn’t given the nod the next game, he played in the one after that; both were wins against the Calgary Flames. During the game last night, Gibson only allowed one goal while facing 27 shots and tallied his first win since February 19th.
Unimpressive Playoff History
It would be easy to assume that Carlyle would automatically start Gibson for the playoffs since he is the starting goaltender. After all, when the Ducks traded Frederik Andersen during the off-season, it was assumed that meant they were choosing Gibson as the future of the franchise. Yet, Gibson doesn’t have the best playoff record. Last season, he only played two of
Yet, Gibson doesn’t have the best playoff record. Last season, he only played two of the 7-game series against the Nashville Predators. Both games he lost, finishing with a .900 save percentage and an abysmal 3.08 goals-against average. The season before, he finished with a 2-2 record, along with a .919 SV% and a 2.70 GAA.
After spending half of his career stuck as the backup to Kings starting goaltender Jonathan Quick and the other half with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who failed to make the playoffs all three years he was with the organization, Bernier has even less experience in the playoffs. He has played one game, and only played half of it.
Judging from last nights’ victory, it seems as though Gibson is re-familiarizing himself with the net, creating a difficult conundrum for Carlyle: Should he go with the more reliable starting goaltender or the goaltender who is hot?
Hannah Bonnie is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon, where she studied journalism with minors in creative writing and English. After growing up in Anaheim, she is a life-long Ducks fan and is happy to provide insight on her favorite team.
Follow her on Twitter @hbonnie03