It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that the Canucks don’t have just one hotshot rookie, but two. Quinn Hughes is averaging over 20 minutes per game, is second among rookies in scoring, and is in the top-5 in power play points in the entire NHL, but he’s not the only rookie that has played a key role for the Canucks this season.
Thatcher Demko currently leads all rookie goaltenders in save percentage and goals against average. Among the 51 goaltenders with at least five starts this season, Demko is 15th in save percentage, ahead of the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, John Gibson, Braden Holtby, Matt Murray, and Carey Price.
What has been most impressive about Demko’s performance this season is just how consistent and reliable he’s been. The league-average save percentage this season is .908. Demko has just one game under .912 this season, as he’s been well-above average all season. That one blemish on his otherwise spotless record was a 5-4 loss in overtime, so even in that game, the Canucks had a chance to win.
Hockey Prospectus first introduced the idea of a Quality Start back in 2009, applying an idea from baseball for starting pitchers to goaltenders. The basic idea is this: if a goaltender stops at least a league-average number of shots, or allows two or fewer goals, that’s a Quality Start. Eight of Demko’s nine starts this season have been Quality Starts; no goaltender in the NHL has started that many games with a higher percentage of Quality Starts this season.
It’s kind of ludicrous, then, that the Canucks have only won five of Demko’s nine starts. He’s repeatedly given the team a chance to win, but the Canucks have not always taken that chance.
Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers is a case in point. Demko was fantastic in net, making 32 saves on 34 shots, doing everything in his power to give the Canucks a chance. The players in front of him, however, played some of their worst hockey of the season, managing just 17 shots on net, including just four shots in the third period.
The only way Demko could have done more to help the Canucks win was to pull a Russ Tyler: skate up the ice, steal a stick from a defenceman, and blast a knuckle puck past Carter Hart from centre ice. Alas, Demko focused primarily on stopping the puck instead of scoring goals, so the Canucks wasted another Quality Start when I watched this game.
- Things didn’t look all that bad after the first period. The Canucks played a good road period: it was mostly dull, which took the crowd out of it, and they exited the period with the lead. That’s ideal hockey on the road, which is not to be confused with ideal road hockey, which starts with a smoothly-paved cul-de-sac.
- The Canucks opened the scoring — a rare sight this season — off a gorgeous pass by Bo Horvat. His linemates, Zack MacEwen and J.T. Miller, got in on the forecheck, forcing a poor clearance attempt by Michael Raffl. Horvat knocked the puck down, cut into the slot, then spun around to put the puck right on the tape of Miller, who made like Earthsuit and one time, one time, one time, one time, one-timed it.
- Loui Eriksson has had a lot of gamesheets filled with zeroes this season. He has no goals, no assists, and, up until Monday’s game, no hits. Five minutes into the game, Eriksson was finally credited with his first hit of the season. Only, there was something fishy. As caught by Thomas Drance on Twitter, Eriksson didn’t so much hit Robert Hagg as get hit by Robert Hagg.
- To quote Inside Out’s Sadness, that’s sad.
- After the first period, it was all Flyers, particularly in the second period, when they were all over the Canucks like the ocean over Denver in Waterworld. They out-shot the Canucks 17-4 in the second period, with the only Canucks shots coming from Jordie Benn, Troy Stecher, and Tyler Graovac. Benn actually led the Canucks in shots in this game — not a good sign — with 5, but one of his two shots in the second period was a dump-in from centre ice that just happened to be on net. It was an ugly 20 minutes.
- In total, the Flyers out-shot the Canucks 34-17, and 23-13 at 5-on-5. They out-attempted the Canucks 55-37 at 5-on-5. They brutally outplayed the Canucks, who were pinned down in their own zone for long stretches of the game. Maybe the Canucks should have had the player that leads them in corsi percentage in the lineup. Just a thought.
- As you might guess from those shot totals, the Canucks’ stars didn’t shine particularly brightly in this one. Elias Pettersson didn’t have a single shot on goal, while Brock Boeser managed just one. It seems like Tanner Pearson is a poor fit for their line — when Pettersson and Boeser were joined by Miller to reunite the Lotto Line late in the third period, they looked a lot more dangerous.
- Miller and Boeser were a danger to themselves in the second period, though, as they were both responsible for the giveaway that led to the 1-1 goal for the Flyers. The puck squired out of a scrum to Miller, but as he attempted to stickhandle, Boeser skated into his stick and the puck went right to Sean Couturier, who quickly fired it past a surprised Demko. You do it to yourself, Miller and Boeser, and that’s what really hurts.
- Miller and Pettersson were both on the ice for the Flyers’ only other goal. It was the end of a long shift for Miller and he looked dead tired as Justin Braun jumped up the boards around him and went behind the net. As Quinn Hughes moved to check Braun, Jakub Voracek was wide open in the left faceoff circle, with both Pettersson and MacEwen standing around instead of moving to check him. Voracek sent a perfect shot off the far post and in.
- It’s such a shame, as it came a few minutes after a magnificent save by Demko that, by all rights, should have inspired his teammates to storm the Bastille and take over the game. Phillippe Myers jumped down from the point and one-timed a cross-crease pass from Joel Farabee, but Demko stretched across to rob him with the glove.
- After the 2-1 goal, Miller looked like a new man and was clearly the Canucks best player in the final minutes. He was all over the offensive zone prolonging possession for the Canucks and trying to create chances. With five minutes left, he sifted through the Flyers’ defence himself with a nifty wave of his stick over the puck to send Voracek lunging after a non-existent pass, but Hart poked the puck away before he could get a shot off.
- Miller also set up the Canucks’ best opportunity to tie the game with Demko pulled for the extra attacker. With 20 seconds left, he sent a fantastic pass across to Josh Leivo, who would have beaten Hart over the glove if the Flyers’ goaltender had stayed down in his butterfly. Instead, Hart, slid across in his butterfly, then popped up as Leivo shot, trapping the puck between his glove and pad.
The Canucks didn’t deserve to win this game, but Demko did. They should remember that for the next Demko start.