Canucks Goaltending Keeping Team Afloat Until Offense Gets Going

The start of the season hasn’t been a perfect one for the Vancouver Cancuks. In their latest game on Friday, they blew a 2-1 lead to the Nashville Predators to lose 3-2. But a few nights earlier, they were able to battle back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the New York Rangers 3-2 in overtime, having one of their better showings of the season so far statistically. While they did find their legs, it wasn’t before goaltender Thatcher Demko had to be brilliant for a few frantic sequences. So far through the first 11 games, the Canucks goaltending is keeping the team afloat until the offence gets going.

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That’s not saying some of the Canucks players haven’t been playing well. On the contrary, there have been a few outstanding performances so far this season. Conor Garland and J.T. Miller have been the catalysts for the team so for when it comes to goal scoring, but there is a dip in production afterwards. While there is a silver lining behind all of this, the tandem of Demko and backup Jaroslav Halak have kept the Canucks afloat in the early going this season.

Canucks Goaltending Tandem

During the offseason, general manager Jim Benning solidified his goaltending tandem by signing one long term and made a change to the backup position. He re-signed Demko to a five-year deal worth an average annual value (AAV) of $5 million. He then made the the decision to buy out the final year of goaltender Braden Holtby, who had one-year remaining at $4.3 million AAV. Shortly after, he took the cheaper route and signed Jaroslav Halak to a one-year contract worth $1.5 million.

Jaroslav Halak, Vancouver Canucks
Jaroslav Halak, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So far this season, those moves have paid off for him and the Canucks. Demko has become the player they expected when he inked that five-year extension, posting a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.55 and a save percentage (SV%) of .920. Both are better than his career average and has taken another step forward in his game. Halak on the other hand, despite not having a victory this season, has put up incredible numbers, as he owns a 2.07 GAA and a 9.17 SV%. As a backup goaltender, it doesn’t get much better than Halak. Vancouver is getting their money’s worth in net.

Canucks’ Lack of Scoring Production

It’s not that the Canucks don’t have the talent to score, it’s just that they’re not quite living up to the potential coming into the season. Were they expected to be a top-five scoring team going in? Probably not. But the additions made during the offseason coupled with the health of some big time players makes the lack of scoring production in Vancouver all the more puzzling.

It started with the offseason and the moves made to bring in some secondary scoring to the club. The big one was the blockbuster deal with the Arizona Coyotes, which saw Vancouver land Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in exchange for Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel along with the ninth-overall selection in this past year’s entry draft (Dylan Guenther), second-round selection in 2022 and seventh-round draft pick in 2023. Garland was signed immediately to a five-year extension. Jason Dickinson was also acquired from the Dallas Stars in exchange for a third-round pick, giving Vancouver three capable centres and the depth they’ve been lacking for a couple seasons now.

Outside of Garland and Miller, the offence has struggled to produce much so far. The Canucks sit 28th overall in the NHL in goals per game (GPG) averaging a measly 2.36 GPG. While they’re 14th in shots per game (SPG) averaging 31.7, the shooting percentage (S%) hasn’t been there, scoring on just 7.4 percent of their shots, which ranks 27th across the league. For goal scorers, Bo Horvat leads the team with four, Garland, Boeser and Miller are tied for second with three, and four other Canucks are tied with two, including defenseman Quinn Hughes.

Related: Canucks’ Good, Bad & Ugly in October 2021

Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Even with the puck not going in for the Canucks so far, there is a positive perspective to take out of it.

The Silver Lining

Despite the mediocre start, there is a silver lining for the Canucks, other than the goaltending. In spite of Vancouver’s lack of production on the scoresheet, they still hold a record of 4-6-1, and sit just four points out of third place in the division. At one point or another, Pettersson and Brock Boeser (among many others) will start clicking again. The same situation happened with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top players. Guys like Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and John Tavares got off to slow starts themselves along with a record of 2-4-1 through their first seven games. Since then they have rattled off five straight victories and have scored a combined 27 points during that’s stretch between the three of them.

It’s not a matter of if for the likes of Pettersson, Boeser, Tanner Pearson and Nils Hoglander (who have a combined six goals through 40 games this season), but when these guys get going. Pettersson nearly had two 30-goal seasons to start his career, Boeser has scored 20-plus goals in three of his first four full campaigns, Pearson scored 21 in his first seasons with the club, and Hoglander had 13 in his rookie season.

The beginning of a new season tends to magnify what happens, whether it’s good or bad. Had this happened after a hot start, it wouldn’t be nearly as big of a concern, but once some of the more counted upon scorers start finding the back of the net, it will give the goaltending a much needed break after doing the heavy lifting in the early stages off the 2021-22 regular season.

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