Brian Gibbons raced into the offensive zone leaving a Binghamton Senators defender in his dust. As he approached the crease, Gibbons hit the brakes in a blur, forcing goaltender Robin Lehner to slide to the far side of the net.
All of a sudden, a player that had just used his breakneck speed to create a scoring chance had all the time in the world to neatly slide the puck into an empty corner of the net.
The goal, which came during the Penguins 5-2 win over Binghamton on Feb. 16, contained elements of what has made Gibbons a more complete player during his second AHL season.
He displayed his blazing speed to get into the offensive zone unscathed, and a heap of patience to wait out one of the top goaltenders in the league.
“He held an extra second and that patience was the difference,” said head coach John Hynes. “It was a good, smart goal.”
Surprisingly, the goal was Gibbons sixth of the season and first in 11 games – a very deceptive stat in his case.
While the goal totals may not be lofty this season, Gibbons has still been one of the most consistent Penguins of late. He’s done so by sticking to his strengths while skating on the fourth line with Zach Sill and Bobby Farnham.
“For me, that’s my speed,” Gibbons said. “I try to use it all over the ice. It’s something I learned from last year – use it more and not just when you have the puck.”
Sure Gibbons’ speed can spring him on a breakaway in a split second, but it can also be used to wreak havoc on puck carriers as well.
Gibbons has mastered the art of sneaking up on unsuspecting opponents and swiping the puck away in a flash, and he does it at both ends of the ice.
It’s an art that he learned while playing college hockey for Boston College.
“When I was at school, on the penalty kill we used all-out pressure and went 100 percent at guys to try and force them to fumble the puck,” Gibbons said. “You can’t do that all the time here because guys have more skill, but at certain times in the game you can catch an opponent cheating for offense.”
Gibbons’ speed combined with the physical, high-energy play of Sill and Farnham has made for a unique fourth line.
For Sill, who has seen a variety of linemates on the fourth line over his last four season with the Penguins, said the speed brought by Gibbons is a new element.
“It’s a different type of player to have on the fourth line. He’s very fast, good with the puck and sees the ice very well,” Sill said. “He can push D-men back all game and make plays, and it’s good to have that kind of depth on the fourth line.”
As a rookie last season, Gibbons was pegged as a speed guy and it’s a label that took some time to grow into. At college, Gibbons was accustomed to turning on the jets whenever he had the puck or saw an opportunity for a scoring chance.
Now in his second year as a pro, Gibbons understands that he has to use his speed every second he’s on the ice, not just when he has the puck.
“At this level you have to use your speed all over the ice, every shift,” Gibbons said. “You have to find pleasure in different areas of the game other than scoring goals and getting assists. It could be creating turnovers, picking off passes and just providing energy for the team.”
That approach has caught Hynes’ attention, who said Gibbons in a more consistent player this year, largely in part to a commitment to use his speed all the time.
“He has a better idea of how to use it and right now he’s become a more driving player,” Hynes said. “He doesn’t just go hard and pull up. He’s more committed and as a result his game is better.”
And that means Gibbons is just as satisfied to steal a puck or swipe a pass as he is to score a goal after blazing by defenseman en route to the net.
“My speed is what got me here and it does take some work,” Gibbons said. “But it’s what is going to make me successful and I enjoy playing that way.”