Goaltending Surprisingly Vancouver’s Greatest Strength

You could argue that Vancouver’s goaltenders are preventing the team from tanking. If you’re making that argument, you probably have a strong case.

Vancouver gives up more scoring chances than any other team in the NHL. Their defence, even when healthy, is mediocre at best. Look for them to keep giving up scoring chances, especially now that Alex Edler is out of the lineup for two or three weeks.

The Canucks also aren’t scoring enough to mask their defensive woes. Their goals for per 60 minutes at even-strength is 25th in the league. For a while the Sedins were carrying the Canucks in the offensive department, but over the last ten games the Sedin twins have a combined eight points. In their last five games they’ve each recorded a mere one assist.

There aren’t many positives for the Canucks in the special teams department, as both their powerplay and penalty kill are below the league average. Vancouver’s powerplay ranks 25th in the NHL and 28th in goals scored.

So what’s the Canucks’ biggest strength heading down the stretch drive?

It’s their goaltending.

Canucks’ Crease Crusaders

Give yourself a pat on the back if you thought the Canucks goaltending was going to be their greatest asset at this point during the season. You weren’t among the majority.

Before the season kicked off, many questioned the Canucks’ goaltending situation. Ryan Miller was coming off of a major injury and as Eddie Lack flourished, Miller became an afterthought. The disdain for Miller drastically increased following Lack’s departure and general manager Jim Benning’s finger-wagging at Canucks fans when he said he could have traded Miller.

Jacob Markstrom excelled in the AHL last season when he led the Utica Comets to the Calder Cup Final which prompted Benning to decide that Lack was expendable. It was a risky move that’s paid off as Markstrom looks to have solidified himself at the NHL level.

During the last ten games he has a save percentage of .931, and his .925 save percentage has vaulted him into the top ten league-wide.

Don’t discount Miller though, as he’s rebounded  with a .933 save percentage in seven games since returning from injury. As long as the Canucks don’t run Miller into the ground, he should perform just fine between the pipes. The Canucks have no reason to do that now with the emergence of Markstrom.

The Canucks rank near the bottom of the league in many categories, but their save percentage at even-strength is .937, good for eighth overall in the NHL.

The Better Goalie?

Yes Markstrom, you are the better goalie.

Canucks fans are clamouring for Markstrom to get more playing time between the pipes. Here was a poll from TSN 1040 on Wednesday morning asking if Markstrom deserved more starts. 95% of voters agreed that he deserves more playing time, and it is hard to argue otherwise.

His play has been nothing short of magnificent and he continues to get better as the games go on. Would that success continue if he were to become the number one guy in Vancouver? That still waits to be seen. Lack didn’t shine when initially handed the keys to the crease, and much like Markstrom, he did nothing beforehand to prove that it wasn’t worth a shot.

That doesn’t have to happen for Vancouver this season, or even next season. If Benning wants to keep both Miller and Markstrom in the fold, then the two could split games for the forseeable future. Both are playing well for the moment, so head coach Willie Desjardins shouldn’t feel any pressure to change the rotation. However if Markstrom continues to shine, Desjardins might have to give the goalies a 50/50 split in playing time.

One thing to consider is that the Canucks are right up against the salary cap. They have no wiggle room unless they unload some veterans at the deadline. Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis are regulars around the rumour mill, but is there a chance the Canucks could unload Miller and his $6 million cap hit?

Seems unlikely. There doesn’t appear to be any team willing to take on Miller’s cap hit especially considering his age. It’s worth exploring, but expect Miller to remain with the Canucks until the end of next season.