The Penguins' Brian Gibbons works the puck against Blackhawks' Michal Handzus in the first period in the Stadium Series at Soldier Field in Chicago Saturday night.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Brian Gibbons isn’t one to show a lot of emotion. That includes squirming.
If he is feeling as if he’s on the hot seat as the right winger on the Penguins’ top line alongside center Sidney Crosby, he’s hiding it pretty well.
“I don’t think it’s tough on the ice to play with him at all,” Gibbons said. “I think off the ice it can be tough with all the questions you get. On the ice, no one’s going to complain.”
Maybe Crosby’s linemates don’t complain, but there was that rather deafening roar of discontent coming from Canada over Crosby’s left winger, Chris Kunitz. Not for Kunitz’s spot in the Penguins’ lineup, but over his place for the start and finish of the Olympic tournament recently in Sochi, Russia.
Gibbons claimed he didn’t pay heed to that flak — even though he potentially could find himself the subject of something similar if he doesn’t produce on that line.
“I didn’t watch much of the Olympics, to be honest,” said Gibbons, who got sent back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League over the NHL’s Olympic break and played in the AHL All-Star Game and a few regular-season games to stay sharp.
“On the Internet and social media, you hear different things about his linemates. It’s obviously overscrutinized. It’s kind of in one ear and out the other, I guess.”
Gibbons, who turned 26 last week, has four goals, nine points in his first 21 NHL games this season going into a game tonight at Nashville. He has split the season between the Penguins and Wilkes-Barre. A lot of his NHL time has been alongside Crosby.
With the NHL trade deadline set for 3 p.m. Wednesday, there’s always a chance that Penguins general manager Ray Shero could swing a deal for a different right winger for Crosby, whose regular linemate on that side, Pascal Dupuis, is out for the season after knee surgery.
For now, Gibbons is … well … it’s hard to say whether he’s ecstatic to play on Crosby’s wing because he’s so reserved — he barely celebrates when he scores.
Gibbons, however, acknowledged a sense of accomplishment for reaching the NHL.
A small — 5 feet 8, 170 pounds —but speedy player, he went undrafted out of Salisbury, a New England prep school. He got more attention over four seasons at Boston College, and the Penguins signed him after he attended their summer development camp.
This is his third pro season, with the first two providing some growing pains.
“The last two years after I left college, I had some ups and downs in Wilkes-Barre,” Gibbons said. “I kind of had a fresh start this year, had a good start down in Wilkes and thought I might get a chance, and then with all the injuries [to Penguins players] … It’s unfortunate for guys, but it gives guys like me a chance to come up.
“When there are a lot of injuries up here, the guys in Wilkes are noticing, and it gives them hope and more reason to play hard. It’s cool to get this experience. Just taking it day by day and enjoying it.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma extols Gibbons’ speed and his ability to create chances and draw penalties.
“I heard about the way he played in college and heard about what kind of player he was,” Bylsma said. “His progression has come over the course of two years. He started to bring that game the last half of the year.”
Bylsma has no qualms about assigning Gibbons to Crosby’s line.
“Sid’s a guy that needs a couple things —or he wants a couple of things — with his line,” Bylsma said. “And that’s speed, and he wants someone to force the issue. He likes someone to attack with speed and create turnovers, create [loose] pucks. That’s what ‘Gibby’ brings. He’s got some pretty fast wheels.
“Do you view Brian Gibbons as a skilled, top, No. 1 right wing in the league? I don’t think so. But he does bring that speed. He brings that energy, and he brings it and helps his line that way.”
Although Crosby leads the NHL with 80 points, his line hasn’t been overly productive lately. Gibbons has gone three games without a point, and Kunitz has a season-long drought of six games — although he scored for Canada in the gold-medal game win against Finland.
Kunitz, a longtime member of the Penguins’ top line, was asked the secret to playing with Crosby.
“Just getting put there, I guess,” he said. “Success comes playing with Sid with the way he competes. You go to your certain areas and try to be consistent.
“That’s something I’ve got to get back to being. If he can rely on you, then it makes it easier on him. He knows where guys are going to be.”
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