ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Ducks faced off against the Golden Knights once again, hoping to fare better than their 4-1 defeat in their season opener last month in Nevada. John Gibson made his first start in nearly a week after leaving last Monday’s game in the first period with an upper-body injury. Alex Killorn officially made his Ducks debut after suffering a fractured finger during one of Anaheim’s preseason games.
Vegas was coming off a 7-0 domination of the Colorado Avalanche last night and had a bit more pep in their step to start against Anaheim, jumping out to a 5 to 0 shots on goal advantage midway through the first period. Four odd-man rushes in the first helped the Golden Knights jump out to a 1-0 lead, with Jack Eichel driving past a stumbling Jackson LaCombe before feathering a pass over Ilya Lyubushkin’s stick to Ivan Barbashev––who finished past Gibson.
Eichel would continue to wreak havoc in the second, scoring the Golden Knights’ second goal of the game with a laser over the left shoulder of Gibson. The Ducks would answer back early in the third though with a power play goal courtesy of Adam Henrique. The veteran forward swatted home a loose puck from the slot for his second goal of the season. Anaheim now has three power play goals in their last two games.
Midway through the third, the Ducks would tie the game after Eichel whiffed on an exit pass in his own zone. Pavel Mintyukov picked up the puck and floated a lead pass to Sam Carrick, who beat Logan Thompson five-hole. Mintyukov now has points in five of his last six games. “Great play by him to get it over to me and I was just all alone,” said Carrick.
The final 10 minutes of the game were a frenzied affair. An Ilya Lyubushkin interference penalty was handily killed shortly after Carrick’s goal as both teams continued to push for a lead. The Ducks would find that in the form of Mason McTavish with just under four minutes remaining in the period.
The second line continued their good run of form, with Frank Vatrano dishing out two terrific passes to Lyubushkin and McTavish on the ensuing goal. Carrick would ice the game with an empty net goal two minutes later. McTavish extended his point streak to seven games with his game-winning tally.
“I think it’s just a game of resilience,” said Ducks head coach Cronin after the game. “The resiliency came in from the coachability of the group. It was a great team effort.”
Special teams played a large role once again for Anaheim as they killed off all four of the Golden Knights’ power play opportunities while scoring a power play goal of their own. The Ducks are now 8/8 on the penalty kill and 3/6 on the power play in their last two games.
Cronin credited assistant coaches Brent Thompson and Newell Brown with making adjustments to help improve a special teams unit that ranked in the bottom half of the league through the first handful of games into the season.
“(Brent’s) got the chemistry together. He’s got the strategy together and the language is kind of familiar now, so we can make adjustments as the game goes on. Obviously, your goalie needs to be good, (Gibson) made some huge saves.”
29 saves on the night for the Pittsburgh native, who didn’t look any worse for wear in his first game back. A save on an Eichel breakaway attempt and a pair of eye-popping saves on Brayden Pachal were just a few instances in which Gibson kept Anaheim in the game while they were pushing for goals early on.
With another comeback victory, the Ducks are now in a tie for the second-most comeback wins in the league this season with five. All five of those have in the last six games. Of course, the Ducks have won all six of those games as they extended their win streak with tonight’s victory. They also joined the Toronto Maple Leafs as the only other team in the league with multiple two-goal, third period comebacks this season.
“It’s pretty special,” said Killorn, whose time on ice in his season debut fittingly matched his jersey number. “I’ve been watching most of the games from the press box. I don’t know how it was in the past, but going down 2-0 to the Stanley Cup champions and to show resiliency and to come back. We’ve done it a bunch of times against a bunch of different teams. It’s impressive to see that resiliency in this group, especially such a young group.”
“The game is mental,” said Cronin. “It’s about believing in one another, it’s about believing in a system and executing the system. We have enough talent to convert the effort and the intensity that we’re bringing into games to score goals and defend. It’s a great win. You put it in your pocket and you get ready for the next one.”
The next game for Anaheim is on Tuesday, a rematch of last week’s matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.