5 Observations From Canucks’ First 10 Games

The Vancouver Canucks have now played 10 games this season and hold a mediocre record of 2-6-2 along with 30 goals scored and 40 against. Last season on Nov. 3, they had a 4-5-1 record with 24 goals scored and 26 against. Despite stating that they would get off to a better start in 2022-23, they have actually done worse with three fewer points – all while allowing 14 more goals against. From a bad penalty kill to Bo Horvat’s dominance on the scoreboard, here are five observations from the Canucks’ first 10 games of 2022-23.

1. Canucks’ Penalty Kill Has Not Improved

At this time last season, the Canucks were killing penalties at a 70 percent clip, which ranked them 28th in the NHL. This season, it’s much worse as they are only killing at a 60 percent rate, ranking them 32nd – 3.9 percent lower than the Anaheim Ducks who sit 31st. If they hope to be in the playoff conversation in April, that part of their game has to improve and fast. It didn’t last time, and they ended up finishing the season tied with the Seattle Kraken for 31st in the NHL behind only the Detroit Red Wings, and of course, missed the playoffs.

The Canucks lost arguably their best penalty killer in Tyler Motte when they traded him to the New York Rangers at last season’s trade deadline. They are still feeling that loss today as head coach Bruce Boudreau has primarily used Horvat (15:21 shorthanded time on ice – SH TOI), J.T. Miller (14:49 SH TOI), and Elias Pettersson (13:56 SH TOI) as his top penalty-killing forwards. While they aren’t the worst options in the world, they aren’t necessarily the best, and that has shown in the numbers so far.

Elias Pettersson Vancouver Canucks
Elias Pettersson has seen a lot of time on the penalty kill for the Vancouver Canucks this season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

General manager Patrik Allvin brought aboard Curtis Lazar, Dakota Joshua, and Ilya Mikheyev in the offseason with the hope that they would prop up the aforementioned 31st overall PK. That hasn’t happened yet as Mikheyev and Lazar have already missed time with injuries and Joshua has only been used sparingly. In fact, surprising roster addition Nils Aman has played more than him. All in all, the Canucks are treading water when it comes to the PK and they either have to find a better system to employ or change up the personnel, which is easier said than done.

2. Demko Has Seemingly Misplaced His Superhero Costume

Looking solely at the stats, you would think Thatcher Demko was a middling to low-end goaltender on the cusp of being sent down to the American Hockey League. Through eight starts this season, he’s got an ugly stat line of a 4.06 goals-against average (GAA) and .876 save percentage (SV%) along with a dreadful 1-6-1 record. He also already has three really bad starts (RBS) on his ledger and only one quality start (QS). Finally, he’s dipped far below his career-worst goals-saved above average (GSAA) of minus-3.7, coming in at minus-7.3.

Related: 5 Takeaways From Canucks’ 5-2 Loss to the Devils – 11/1/22

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Of the goaltenders that have five or more starts, only Elvis Merzlikins (4.75 GAA) and John Gibson (4.23 GAA) have worse GAAs than Demko. He is also tied with the Kraken’s Martin Jones for the most RBSs. Needless to say, this isn’t the start he envisioned when he spoke to Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre about drastically improving upon his performance from 2021-22.

Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko needs to channel his inner Kirk McLean sooner rather than later (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Demko had to be a superhero far too often last season, keeping the Canucks in games they had no business being in. Unfortunately, this season it appears he has either misplaced that costume or the same Monstars from Space Jam that stole Pettersson’s talent pre-Boudreau swiped his this time. Whatever the case, the team in front of him will have to tighten up defensively until he regains his form (which he will eventually) or Canucks fans are going to be in for a very long season.

3. Canucks Are Giving Up Too Many High-Danger Shots…Again

All the blame for the Canucks’ struggles should not be placed on their starting goaltender, though. Again, like 2021-22, they are putting too much pressure on him to perform at a ridiculously high level every single night. Whenever he was average last season – which wasn’t often – they lost. That’s because they gave up too many high-danger shots. Last season Demko faced 420 of those shots, which was third-most behind Alex Nedeljkovic (427) and Connor Hellebuyck (468). He was pretty good at stopping them too, finishing with a .852 high-danger save percentage (HDSV%).

Thatcher Demko Vancouver Canucks
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This season, however, has been a different story. Not in the case of the Canucks allowing high-danger shots, but Demko stopping them. He once again is facing an un-godly amount (fourth in the league at 57) but is only stopping 78.9 percent of them compared to the 85.2 percent he did last season. No wonder the Canucks have lost all but one game with him between the pipes. Except he shouldn’t be under the gun to save the day all the time. The players in front of him need to be his sidekick and help him fight crime sometimes. Unfortunately, they have rarely done so since he’s taken over the starting mantle. That’s why they find themselves toiling at the bottom of the standings right now.

4. Third Periods the Achille’s Heel of the Canucks So Far

All last season, it was the first period that haunted the Canucks. Now it’s the third. Similar to Demko’s stats, these are of the ugly variety as well. Through 10 games, they are tied with the Los Angeles Kings for the most third-period goals allowed and have been outscored 17-8. I guess the bright side is that they have cleaned up their starts, as they are only one back of the league lead in first-period goals with 12. However, that’s little consolation considering they only have two wins to show for it.

Related: 10 NHL Teams off to Unexpected Starts in October

If the Canucks hope to turn things around this season and get back to a respectable record (like say, above .500), they have to play a full 60 minutes of hockey. Except, they have only one of those under their belts so far – that being the 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Apart from that game, they have been overwhelmed by the opposition on most nights. Not only that, but they are also providing very little pushback offensively often limited to single-digit shot totals and long periods of time between shots. Just look to the game against the New Jersey Devils for a recent example as they went almost eight minutes without one a couple of times and finished with only four.

5. Horvat’s Scoring Pace Could Price Him Out of Vancouver

After four negative observations, let’s finish with a positive one, Horvat’s insane production so far. Going back to last season, he has 25 goals in his 34 games, which puts him in the realm of elite goalscorers like Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. This season, his eight goals are tied for third behind Erik Karlsson (a defenceman) and the aforementioned McDavid. Not bad for a guy that’s not really known for scoring goals at a high rate.

Bo Horvat Vancouver Canucks
Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Currently in a contract year, Horvat’s production is both a blessing and a curse for the Canucks. Obviously, they want him to score, but the more goals he scores, the more his average annual value (AAV) on his next deal will go up. What if he approaches 40, or dare I say it, 50 goals? That will undoubtedly price him out of their budget and possibly out of Vancouver when he hits free agency in the offseason. With how much value he brings to the team, from faceoffs and the power play to his overall leadership and now goalscoring prowess, Allvin and Jim Rutherford might end up regretting prioritizing Miller over him.

Canucks’ Next 10 Games Won’t Be Easy

After the Canucks finish up their next 10-game set, it will be American Thanksgiving. Historically, teams that are in the playoff picture at that point usually stay there for the rest of the season. Right now, they are four points out of a wild card spot and six points back of the Kraken, who hold the third spot in the Pacific Division. While that deficit looks easy to overcome, the schedule coming up begs to differ:

  • Nov. 3 vs. Anaheim Ducks
  • Nov. 5 vs. Nashville Predators
  • Nov. 8 @ Ottawa Senators
  • Nov. 9 @ Montreal Canadiens
  • Nov. 12 @ Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Nov. 13 @ Boston Bruins
  • Nov. 15 @ Buffalo Sabres
  • Nov. 18 vs. Los Angeles Kings
  • Nov. 21 vs. Vegas Golden Knights
  • Nov. 23 @ Colorado Avalanche

Easy? Not in the least. In fact, these next 10 games could decide the Canucks’ season and maybe even the futures of Horvat, Connor Garland, Brock Boeser, and the like as management could decide a rebuild is in order rather than just a retool.

Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, and NHL.com (current as of Nov. 3, 2022)

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