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I Watched This Game: Demko leaves game as Canucks ground Jets

The Vancouver Canucks dismantled the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night but Thatcher Demko left the game in the second period.
The Vancouver Canucks destroyed the Winnipeg Jets 5-0 on Saturday night but lost Thatcher Demko along the way.

Forget that the Vancouver Canucks completely dismantled the Winnipeg Jets, who entered the night tied with the Canucks for first in the Western Conference in points percentage.

Forget that Quinn Hughes was a beast, controlling the game like not just a Norris Trophy favourite but a Hart Trophy candidate.

Forget that Nils Höglander scored his 20th goal of the season, holding his spot in the top-ten goalscorers at 5-on-5 in the NHL.

None of that matters long-term. What matters is that Thatcher Demko is okay.

Demko left Saturday night’s game midway through the second period when the Canucks held a 4-0 lead, replaced by backup goaltender Casey DeSmith. Between the two of them, they stopped all 22 shots from the Winnipeg Jets, combining for a shutout that, technically speaking, doesn’t exist.

In order for a goaltender to get credit for a shutout, they have to be the goaltender of record for the entire game, so neither Demko nor DeSmith gets a shutout despite, well, shutting out the Jets. And, since there’s no such statistic for a “team shutout,” the shutout simply cease to be, vanishing into the ether as if it never happened.

But, again, that doesn’t matter. The major question is why did Demko leave the game? 

Because if Demko is hurt — really hurt, to the point that he misses a significant amount of time — then the Canucks’ odds of going deep in the playoffs take a tumble.

So, is Demko okay?

“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything,” said Patrik Allvin on Hockey Night in Canada’s After Hours. “I haven’t been able to get down to the dressing room there yet, so I think we’ll know more tomorrow. I didn’t even see what happened, so I don’t really know.”

To accept this answer, we must forget that cellphones and texting exist and that the only way for Allvin to get an update on Demko’s status is to physically travel down to the bowels of Rogers Arena to find out firsthand.

Head coach Rick Tocchet didn’t have any further information either, though he downplayed the severity of the situation.

“I haven’t talked to the doctor but I don’t think it’s too serious,” said Tocchet. “But I don’t know, I can’t speculate.”

Kelly Hrudey on the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast went through several saves where Demko seemed to be wincing or slow to get up before he finally left the game. According to Casey DeSmith, Demko told him earlier in the second period that he might have to enter the game.

“Demmer mentioned something, like maybe just get ready,” said DeSmith “It was nice to have a little heads up, just to get the mind right before going in, take it from there.”

There were some who speculated that Demko might have been playing through an injury and questioned whether he should have even got the start. But Tocchet said Demko wasn’t dealing with anything during the morning skate and suggested it was a “fluke thing.”

Here’s the thing: whether it’s a serious injury or not, the Canucks have to look at lightening Demko’s load as they head down the stretch into the playoffs. Demko is third in the NHL in starts with 49, on pace for 61 starts. That’s a lot of wear and tear on a goaltender’s body and the Canucks need him to be fresh for the playoffs.

“The schedule kind of sets up for that,” said Tocchet. “We’re going to have to really manage it. We’ve got three days off, then two days off this week — I think we play three games in 11 days or something, so there’s a lot of time for him to get some rest and whatever we’ve got to do to get him healthy again. We’ve got to manage him, for sure.”

Writing about this game feels a little like the old joke: “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” Aside from Demko leaving, the Canucks’ play was very good when I watched this game. 

  • This was an impressive win from the Canucks over arguably the best team in the Central Division, but it does come with one caveat: the Jets were playing on the second half of back-to-backs. Still, the Canucks took it to the Jets, out-shooting them 20-to-9 in the first period and 37-to-22 overall en route to a thoroughly convincing 5-0 beatdown.
  • The Canucks dominated the first period, primarily when Quinn Hughes was on the ice. They out-shot the Jets 15-to-0 with Hughes on the ice in the first, which is utterly bonkers. He tilted the ice more than those two climbers who tried to climb an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean.  
  • Hard-matched against Mark Scheifele and the Jets’ top line, Hughes completely shut them down — the Jets had literally zero shots on goal in the nearly ten minutes that Hughes was up against Scheifele at 5-on-5. Plays like the one below illustrate why: Hughes outbattled Scheifele in every possible way, first knocking him to the ice then getting body position on him to cleanly move the puck to Filip Hronek for an easy breakout. 
  • Hughes helped the Canucks get on the board first by wheeling around the offensive zone to get a shot on goal. Nils Höglander went between his legs to slide the rebound into the crease, where J.T. Miller jammed it in while being hit from behind by Dylan DeMelo. 
  • “It’s just in the moment trying to get the puck on net, I guess,” said Höglander about his between-the-legs move. “And Miller was there to tap it in, so good start for us.”
  • Ilya Mikheyev looked hungry tonight, eager to break his 34-game goal drought. It’s not just that he had a game-high six shots on goal but that he was far more persistent in his puck pursuit and was winning more battles along the boards than we’ve seen from him all season. He was part of the crew tasked with shutting down Scheifele’s line and he excelled in the role.
  • “I think a lot of people are rooting for him to score,” said Rick Tocchet. “Honestly, if he plays the way he’s been playing lately, they’re going to go in. I just don’t want him to get down about it because I’ve liked his game. I told him on the bench halfway through — I know he had the chance there — don’t get dejected because your game’s good. With Mik, if he can win puck battles and win races, he’s going to help our team, and eventually something will hit him and go in the net.”
  • This was yet another excellent game from Nils Höglander, who scored his 20th goal of the season, all of them at 5-on-5. Höglander flew up the right wing, pulled up, then threw a surprise shot towards Connor Hellebuyck as Pius Suter crashed the net. The shot caught Hellebuyck off guard, so he wasn’t square to the shot — he wasn’t even a rhombus — so the puck skipped off his crest and fluttered just inside the far post.
  • “I saw there was a good net drive there,” said Höglander. “So, it was more just trying to get the puck there and get a rebound or something. It was kind of lucky that went in.”
  • It was another quiet night for Elias Lindholm on the scoreboard, but his line with Conor Garland and Vasily Podkolzin in both puck possession and scoring chances. Lindholm went 9-for-12 in the faceoff circle and he was dogged in his puck pursuit, such as this play from the first period where he out-battled 6’4” Morgan Barron for the puck to extend an offensive zone possession. I’d say that Lindholm is doing all the “little things” but that phrase might still be a little too traumatic for Canucks fans.
  • One of the key points of the game came with three minutes remaining in the first. The Jets were pressing hard with some of their only sustained pressure of the period. Phil Di Giuseppe went wandering, missing that Mason Appleton was sneaking in at the backdoor. Adam Lowry found Appleton with a pass from behind the net and Demko was caught on the wrong post, giving Appleton plenty of room. Then he shot the puck directly into Demko’s pad. It could have been a one-goal game in that moment.
  • As Appleton looked to the heavens, the Canucks broke back the other way for a 2-on-1. Teddy Blueger threw the puck to Di Giuseppe and he tipped it through Hellebuyck’s five-hole. Di Giuseppe went from a blown defensive assignment at one end to a goal at the other, while the game went from a potential one-goal game to a three-goal game. That is your PITB Transformative Moment of the Game™, which is legally distinct from the phrase “TSN Turning Point.”
  • I had to laugh at this moment when a referee accidentally got in the way of Hughes pursuing the puck. Hughes’s competitive nature took over and he got his stick up, seemingly about to crosscheck the referee before thinking better of it. That led to a dangerous Jets chance but Demko made the save, then snatched the puck out of midair before Vladislav Namestnikov could swat it in.
  • The Canucks made it 4-0 on the power play soon after. It was a different look for the first power play unit, with Elias Pettersson in the bumper, though he ended up in front of the net for the goal. Hughes’ point shot hit Conor Garland up high and bounced off the ice; Pettersson caught the puck on the second bounce, backhanding it past a lunging Hellebuyck, who couldn’t Helle-buy a break in this game.
  • Rogers Arena was jumping in this game though it grew very quiet when it was announced in the building that Demko had been replaced by DeSmith. The arena recovered eventually, with an extended wave getting everyone back in good spirits, but the goaltender switch definitely cast a pall on the proceedings.
  • Pettersson got hit by a DeMelo DeMelbow late in the second period. The elbow was completely missed by the referees, thought it unfortunately wasn’t missed by Pettersson’s face.
  • Just like they did against the Vegas Golden Knights a couple nights earlier, the Canucks gave the Jets absolutely nothing to work with in the third period. What little the Jets were able to get on net, DeSmith turned aside. It was a clinic in closing out a game.
  • To top it off, the Canucks added one more goal to make it 5-0. Noah Juulsen’s breakout pass was off the mark but Pettersson was first to the puck. Höglander shouted out, “Keep it going!” and Pettersson kept it going full steam, banging the puck off the boards to where Höglander was waiting at the Jets blue line. He caught the aerial puck, dropped it to his stick, and jumped up the left side before centring for Pius Suter. The pass was chopped away by Namestnikov but Suter deftly knocked it down to give himself an open net.
  • Absurdly, Höglander and Pettersson weren’t credit with assists on the goal, which means Namestnikov’s chop at the puck was considered a change in possession. It’s a weird sport where Garland can get an assist for being hit in the chest by a puck while intentional passes by Pettersson and Höglander get nothing. That should’ve been a three-point game for both of them. Alas.
  • “When we play like this — staying above, being in our structure all the time, and with our goaltending — I like our chances,” said Pettersson after the game. It’s hard to disagree. The Canucks had yet to really prove themselves this season against the best teams in the Western Conference. Over the last few games, they’ve beaten the Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights, and Winnipeg Jets. They’re looking pretty dang good right now.