ANAHEIM — It hasn’t been the start to the season that the Ducks wanted, but in Sunday night’s dramatic 4-3 overtime win at Honda Center over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, you can start to see the formula for any future success might be.
It begins with one part John Gibson’s goaltending. Despite some less than glittery numbers, Gibson has been arguably the Ducks’ most valuable player this season, frequently keeping them in games they have no business being in – and on Sunday, keeping them alive until the offense finally awakened. Two saves stood out – Gibson stopping Alex Kerfoot on a third-period penalty shot. A goal there would have given the Leafs a three-goal cushion and likely would have put the game out of reach.
After the Ducks forced overtime, Gibson’s sprawling glove save against a wide-open Mitch Marner, one of the league’s top scoring talents, kept the game alive, and set the stage for the second of Trevor Zegras’s two goals, which accounted for the margin of victory.
“He (Gibson) does that every game,” said Zegras, who scored at 2:15 of overtime.
The game-winner was a dazzling combination of skill and grit with an exhausted Zegras fighting off Kerfoot.
“I knew the guy caught me, so I figured that that (Maple Leaf defenseman Morgan Rielly) would not slideif he knew that guy was back-checking me,” Zegras said. “So I stuck my leg out, closed my eyes and tried to hit the net. Lucky enough, it went in.”
The win stopped a seven-game losing streak. The Ducks (2-6-1) held a full team meeting before practice on Saturday and coach Dallas Eakins thought the positive elements carried over to the game against the Maple Leafs.
“A lot of different players spoke and we just laid it all out there,” Eakins said. “It was really important we understood that the guy next to you isn’t going to pull us out of this. The coach isn’t going to pull us out of this. Each person in that room had to have a level of resolve.”
The losing cycle started after an emotional high at home – a comeback win against Seattle on Oct. 12 on opening night, in overtime. Since then, the Ducks had picked up only one point (in Boston) and dropped to last place in the NHL before Sunday’s victory.
“It’s just nice to get out of that funk,” said Zegras, who has a team-leading six goals. “It’s so easy to lose in this league. You can get in that rotation of, ‘OK, we dropped that one. We’ll come back. OK, we lost that one.’ It’s a real, real (bad) cycle to be in. Once you break out of that…We’ve been in this situation before – lost seven, eight in a row with this team.
“We know how to break out of it and that’s definitely what we’re doing.”
If Gibson is the glue that helps the Ducks overcome costly defensive miscues, Zegras – along with Troy Terry – is the catalyst that provides the offense, on a team struggling to score goals. Even after Sunday’s victory, the Ducks have just 20 goals in nine games – second-lowest in the league ahead of only the St. Louis Blues, who have two games in hand. On the plus side, the victory elevated the Ducks winning percentage to .278, a shade ahead of the San Jose Sharks’ .273. The Ducks play the Sharks in two of their next three games, beginning Tuesday in San Jose.
More than anything else, the Ducks showed some resilience against the Leafs, a road weary team that was completing a five-game road trip and was playing for the second time in 48 hours.
“I feel like the last couple games have been good,” Zegras said. “We just haven’t put the puck in the back of the net or maybe giving up too many Grade A chances. We knew where they (the Maple Leafs) were at. This was their third game in the California trip and they played last night. That second period was big for us – we got a lot of momentum while they were tired.”
But the Ducks need more than just Gibson’s saves and Zegras’s goals. They need help from the supporting cast. Against the Leafs, Dmitry Kulikov contributed a key goal, a nifty wraparound, the first goal by a Ducks defenseman this season, tying it at 3 at 13:01 of the third period.
“Frankie (Vatrano) made a great play to me….I saw that the goalie wasn’t on the strong side post,” Kulikov said. “When I came around, I just threw it in there and see what happens.”
Kulikov, who scored seven goals last season with Minnesota, smiled when asked the last time he scored on a wraparound, saying: “Honestly, it could have been when I was in Florida. Defensemen don’t usually hang around the net like that.”
Derek Grant made a smart pass on Jakob Silfverberg’s opening goal; and then managed to sneak behind the Leaf defense for a breakaway near the end of the second period that potentially could have resulted in a penalty shot.
“Our guys stuck with it,” Eakins said. “I think it’s a big step in the right direction. We still have lots of things we’ve got to work on. But certainly getting a win, and in that fashion, certainly helps our mindset.”
With defenseman Jamie Drysdale absent because of injury, the Ducks dressed seven defensemen and 11 forwards. Brett Leason and Pavol Regenda were the healthy scratches. Colton White played in just his second game of the season.