Jason Labarbera: Clutch NHL Performer?

ANAHEIM, CA — In 11 seasons of NHL hockey, Anaheim Ducks’ third string goaltender Jason Labarbera hasn’t played in very many pivotal nationally televised games, but on Wednesday night at the Honda Center, he did just that and turned quite a few heads in the process. The veteran got the call after starter Frederik Andersen was yanked at the beginning of the second, a tough scenario for any goaltender to handle, but Labarbera took it in stride. After allowing a questionable goal on a long Marian Gaborik wrist shot, Labarbera was lights out, posting a number of important saves throughout the course of the game, and then eventually sealing the deal in the shootout.

When pressed with the cliche question of the difficulty of coming in relief, the Burnaby, British Columbia native offered that, “It’s never easy, especially with an atmosphere like that. Your mindset changes in a hurry. That might’ve been the loudest regular-season crowd I’ve ever heard. That was pretty impressive”.

Luckily for Labarbera, he had a chance to do some early scouting on Anze Kopitar’s shootout move, as Kopitar was awarded a penalty shot in the first period, where he easily slid the puck home between Andersen’s pads. “On the penalty shot, I knew he was going to make that move. I didn’t think he was going to do it in the shootout, so I felt like I should go old school and poke check him. I probably threw him off because I think he shot it a little quicker than he wanted to,” he commented after the game.

As a veteran of the highest level of professional hockey in the world, one would think that Labarbera has his game pretty much set in stone. However, he explained a rather interesting approach to the shootout: “For me, once he gets past the blue I try to get out and just try to be as patient as possible, it’s all about making small adjustments, like on the Gaborik goal I didn’t make a very good adjustment. Same on [Gaborik’s shootout goal]; he kinda surprised me. I’ve tinkered with a lot of stuff for shootouts over the years. My record in shootouts isn’t usually very good, I think I’ve found something that works for me, being a little more aggressive, kinda picking that up playing with Mike Smith, seeing him come out hard and challenge”.

Having played for six different NHL clubs, Labarbera has  picked up on things that have propelled his game to give him lasting power in the league, and against the reigning champion Los Angeles Kings, he showed without a doubt that he very much still belongs in the league.