Most of the chatter leading up to Monday’s game at Consol Energy Center between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks surrounded the home team’s reshuffling of its forward lines in an effort to end an offensive slump.
Not much attention was paid to the NHL debut of winger Brian Gibbons, who has led the AHL Penguins in scoring this season and got the call-up prior to the morning skate.
The 25-year-old Gibbons not only donned a Pittsburgh jersey for the first time, but also recorded a goal and assisted on another in helping the Penguins to a 3-1 victory over the Ducks.
All four goals in the game were scored in the third period, including the first two by the Penguins in a span of 62 seconds. Gibbons cashed in from the slot about four minutes in after a brilliant individual effort by Evgeni Malkin distracted the rest of the Ducks. The rookie then picked up the secondary assist when Brandon Sutter redirected Olli Maatta‘s point shot for a 2-0 Pittsburgh lead at 4:54.
The Penguins got lax in their own zone after the outburst, allowing Ryan Getzlaf to score unmolested in front just 26 seconds later and giving the Ducks a power play soon after. Pittsburgh killed the ensuing Anaheim advantage, the visitors’ only such chance of the game, and Sidney Crosby scored his team-leading 10th goal of the season with 12:04 left to nail down the final margin.
The suspense continued, though, as Marc-Andre Fleury was forced to make an array of strong saves in the waning moments. The best of those was a lunging blocker save on Andrew Cogliano, but Fleury denied several prime opportunities throughout the game. He finished with 27 saves in arguably his finest performance of the season.
Fleury’s play was particularly impactful in the first period, when the Ducks (15-6-2, 32 points) fired the first 12 shots of the game and smothered the Penguins’ attack. Pittsburgh, which had lost four of five entering the night and had scored only one goal in each of those defeats, looked disjointed in the opening 20 minutes.
Perhaps the line changes kicked in during the second period, because the Penguins (13-8-0, 26 points) registered 12 shots in the middle frame to the Ducks’ five, finally testing Anaheim goalie Victor Fasth. Still, the netminders were unblemished through 40 minutes and remained so until Malkin circled the entire offensive zone and centered for Gibbons, who pushed a tricky one-timer over Fasth’s blocker.
Although Malkin’s goalless streak extended to a career-worst 14 games, he was the most dominant player on the ice in the final two periods while earning two assists. Crosby was also quite good, missing out on assists when new linemate Beau Bennett couldn’t gather a breakaway pass in the first period and Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz failed to bury sure goals in the third.
But although the Penguins left a few out there, three goals were enough to upend the Ducks, who remain tied for the NHL’s points lead even though they completed their four-game road trip without a victory (0-3-1).
While the Ducks failed to extend their one-point lead in the Pacific Division, the Penguins reclaimed the top spot in the Metropolitan by a point over the Capitals. Pittsburgh travels to Washington for a nationally-televised game Wednesday night.