Rookie winger Gibbons' intensity not waning



The scoresheet was full of zeros.

The scoresheet was misleading.

Penguins rookie winger Brian Gibbons had no points, no shots or even shot attempts, and no hits Sunday night.

“I thought he had an impact on the game,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after a 3-0 win against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center that left the teams’ second-round playoff series tied at 1-1.

Gibbons returned after missing the previous five games because of an unspecified injury. He replaced Tanner Glass in the lineup. Glass was a healthy scratch after playing in the Penguins’ first seven playoff games.

In 10:14 of ice time, Gibbons was all over the place, and not just because he is one of the speedier players in the NHL.

Gibbons got time on the first line, time on the fourth line, time on the penalty-kill. The latter of those three assignments was particularly important in the first period, when the Penguins were short-handed for six minutes in a scoreless game.

“He did a really good job on the penalty-kill,” Bylsma said of Gibbons, who was paired with Marcel Goc for short-handed situations.

Although he had been out since April 19, Gibbons hardly looked as if he had missed any time.

“I felt pretty good,” he said. “I was able to skate [while out of the lineup], which was good, the past couple of weeks. So I was able to stay in shape, and I had fresh legs.”

Gibbons exited at a time that stung in more ways than one.

When previously seen, Gibbons was playing on the top line with Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby. He had two goals — one of them short-handed — in 2:26 of playing time in Game 2 of the first round against Columbus, then left because of injury.

With Sunday’s game, his goals-per-minute average this postseason plummeted, a notion that made Gibbons smile.

“That’s OK,” he said. “I’ll take it. It’s good to be out there.”

His speed helped the Penguins improve in an area that Bylsma said the team addressed after a 3-2 loss in Game 1 against New York — winning races to and battles for the puck.

“Anytime you can get to pucks first, it’s going to help and you can control the play and play in their end instead of our end,” Gibbons said. “We were able to get our forecheck going.”

A Gibbons-for-Glass lineup switchout didn’t make the Penguins more physical. Gibbons is 5 feet 8, 170 pounds. Glass entered the game tied for second on the team with 23 hits in the postseason.

“I don’t think he adds a physical element to our team that affects the other team, but he does it with his speed. He certainly did it [Sunday],” Bylsma said of Gibbons. “He was reliable defensively with his speed being a factor, as well.”

The fleet rookie was an undrafted player who signed with the Penguins out of Boston College after attending their summer development camps.

Gibbons lately had been participating in practice, game-day skates and even pregame warmups while he was out. After an optional practice Saturday, he said he felt ready to play if called upon.

Still, it didn’t look as if he would return Sunday earlier in the day. At the morning skate, the Penguins used five forwards lines — the four lines they used in Game 1 plus three forwards who have been regularly scratched. Gibbons was on none of those.

It wasn’t until the pregame warmup, when Glass was not on the ice, that it seemed as if Gibbons would play.

In keeping with the secrecy surrounding lineups, injuries and strategy in the playoffs, Gibbons was reluctant to say when he was told he would play.

“Uh, I just showed up at the rink and they told me to be ready to play. So I just prepared like I was going to play,” he said.

He prepared on the fly, just like he played.

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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