Sometimes, all a player needs is a change of scenery. Such is the case for 21-year-old right wing Daniel Sprong, who tonight provided all the offense the Ducks would need.
He scored twice - once to tie the game and once in sudden death - to give the Ducks a 2-1 overtime victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. It improved the Ducks' record to 8-1-0 in their last nine games and 10-2-0 in their last 12. The win also marked Anaheim's fifth consecutive victory on the road.
Sprong has been a Duck for less than two weeks, but he's fit in like a glove. They acquired him from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for defenseman Marcus Pettersson on December 3, and he's promptly scored three goals in five games. His three goals with the Ducks also gave him a new career high for goals in a season. He's found instant chemistry with linemates Nick Ritchie and Adam Henrique.
"The coaching staff and management gave me an opportunity to play the role I think I can play," Sprong said in his postgame interview tonight. "Playing with Rico and Ritchie has really been helping me out. Right now I'm getting the looks and putting pucks on net. I'm excited to be here."
Sprong's game winner in overtime came after a clean faceoff win from Henrique from the left circle. After corralling the puck, Sprong carried it to the opposite dot and waited for his center to set up in front of Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. With traffic in front, Sprong's shot found a seam. Once he saw it go in, Sprong dropped to a knee and delivered an emphatic fist pump.
Video: ANA@CBJ: Sprong scores second goal for OT winner
"It was a good faceoff win from Rico," Sprong said. "[Seth] Jones couldn't get space. Rico did a great job screening Bobrovsky. The left side was open and I knew I had to hit the net. Luckily it went in."
The Ducks wouldn't have gotten to overtime without the stellar play from goaltender John Gibson, who stopped 36-of-37 shots, including 16 in the third period alone. It was just another sensational performance from Gibson, who improved his record this season to 14-9-4.
Video: ANA@CBJ: Gibson stones Dubinsky with strong toe save
Gibson referenced a game in Nashville on November 25 - a 5-2 Ducks loss - as a wake-up call for the team. Since then, the Ducks have been on a roll.
"After that Nashville game, we knew our record wasn't very good," Gibson said. "We had to take more pride in it. We're playing the right way now. You're seeing the results."
Despite a heavy forecheck from the Blue Jackets in the third period, Gibson and the Ducks found ways to keep the puck out of the net. It took a team effort from the goaltender on out.
"We were just battling," said Gibson. "We needed everybody, whether it was blocking shots or tying up sticks in front. We need to find a way to win each and every night."
"Gibby's been great all season," said Sprong. "I wasn't here [earlier this season], but seeing the highlights, he's making some crazy saves. Now I get to witness it in person. He's one of the best in the league, by far."
This game also marked the homecoming for rookie forward Kiefer Sherwood, who had 24 friends and family members in attendance tonight. His parents, father Roger and mother Yuko, were interviewed by Ducks TV Host Kent French during the game. For what it's worth, Sherwood is now 2-0 against his hometown team this season, with both victories coming in overtime.
Tonight was another example of the Ducks finding ways to win close games in the late stages of regulation. Each of the last nine wins have come when the Ducks were either tied or trailing in the third period.
They found themselves down 1-0 at the 7:54 mark of the first period tonight when Markus Nutivaara hammered a slap shot past Gibson for his fourth goal of the season, but the Ducks promptly answered back four minutes later when Sprong snuck a wrist shot short side on Bobrovsky for his first goal of the game.
Video: ANA@CBJ: Sprong beats Bobrovsky from sharp angle
Eventually the game would reach overtime, where Sprong once again proved that maybe all he needed was a fresh start after all.
The Ducks will continue their road trip on Monday night when Sprong faces his former team, the Penguins.