Hot or not
@ESPN_Burnside: I'm wondering if we are finally seeing the clear-cut leader in the hunt for the starting goaltending job for Team North America at next fall's World Cup of Hockey. Anaheim's Gibson pitched a 4-0 shutout Monday night in a key victory over the Vancouver Canucks, his third straight start for a Ducks team slowly climbing back into the playoff picture in the Pacific Division after a grisly start. Gibson has a .936 save percentage in four appearances with the big club this season. The win moves the Ducks to within two points of the slumping fourth-place Canucks, who have managed just three wins in the team's last 13 games and have some goaltending issues of their own. Ryan Miller was yanked after allowing the Ducks' fourth goal, an unassisted tally from Corey Perry, early in the third period Monday. The question for the Ducks is: What happens when starter Frederik Andersen comes back from injury? Andersen has been just so-so (like most of his teammates thus far) with a 2.54 goals-against average and just one win in his last five outings. Do the Ducks keep Gibson in the fold? If so, what do they do with backup Anton Khudobin, who has been just OK with a 2.70 GAA and .908 save percentage?
@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Well, I think going back to training camp, one of the possibilities was for the Ducks to dangle one of their veteran goalies before the Feb. 29 trade deadline if they felt Gibson deserved a permanent call-up from the AHL. It's worth mentioning, by the way, that Andersen has yet to sign an extension with the Ducks. I think Anaheim would need to see a bit more of Gibson, though, before making any such plan. As to whether he remains in net, it's playoff time already in Anaheim and the hot hand will no doubt rule the day. They are now four points behind the surprising Arizona Coyotes for the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific, and it's certainly not unrealistic to think those teams might switch spots at some point -- the rebuilding Coyotes may be due for a come-down moment. But I think even second-place San Jose, at 28 points, is within Anaheim's grasp.
@CraigCustance: Scotty, I saw your opening sentence and was wondering if you were referring to the great Garret Sparks, who on Monday became the first Maple Leafs goalie to earn a shutout in his NHL debut. As for Team North America, the concern is that there aren't any NHL-experienced goalie options, but that's starting to change. You mentioned Gibson's triumphant return to the NHL, and he most definitely is the leading contender for the job. The North America brass like his mix of experience and talent. Sparks, meanwhile, has not been on the radar. The goalies the group has been watching closely are Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck and Matt Murray. Hellebuyck also earned his first career win in the past week. If Sparks continues to play well in Toronto, I'm not sure how he stays off the watch list. That he earned a shutout against the Oilers in his debut helps the cause because Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli and coach Todd Mclellan hold the same positions for Team North America. But you're right, Scott, Gibson could hold the key for both the Ducks and Team North America.
@ESPNJoeyMac: I thought for sure Sparks would be today's main subject, and I'm with Craig in thinking Sparks' shutout performance against the Oilers could open up more options for Team North America. I was impressed with Sparks for a few reasons. First, his poise and confidence grew during the game, and it helped that his teammates played well in front of him. Plus, he received a bit of puck luck as Edmonton hit a few posts. Some will say Sparks "only" beat the Oilers. It doesn't matter who the opponent was, because it was a pressure situation for the Maple Leafs with starter James Reimer sidelined and backup Jonathan Bernier struggling and winless on the season. Sparks did exactly what the organization needed him to do, and I'm sure a lot of people in the hockey world noticed.
@DownGoesBrown: Here's my question about the Team North America -- aka Team Young Guns -- goalies: If you're the NHL team of a guy being considered, do you really want him to go? On the one hand, it's great experience. You can say you've played in a World Cup, and you'll be surrounded by top-tier talent on a big stage. On the other hand, there's at least a chance that whichever kid gets the job is going to get shelled. If you've got a Gibson or Hellebuyck and you want them to compete for the starter's job at training camp, do you really want them getting blown out in front of the world instead? (I mean, it's obviously just a theoretical question, since Sparks is going to get the job and lead the Young Guns to a sweep, but still ...)
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