It certainly looks as if the Vancouver Canucks’ bubble-goalie Thatcher Demko is back. Demko held his coming out party during the 2019-20 postseason and, by doing so, helped his team go on a surprising Stanley Cup run. That same Demko was missing in action for the first part of the 2020-21 regular season, but seems to have finally entered the building.
Last night in a game against the Ottawa Senators, Demko stood tall in net to make 44 saves as the Canucks beat the Senators in overtime by a 3-2 score. Canucks head coach Travis Green said honestly, “I’m happy we won the game, but I didn’t think we skated very well. I didn’t think we passed the puck very well.”
He stated the bottom line, “Our goalie gave us the game.”
That seems to happen more and more when a team becomes a goalie-led team. Your coach reiterates – as Green did after the game – something like “We looked sluggish tonight …. We just didn’t play well enough throughout the whole game. But we did find a way to win it.” Goalies can steal games, and Demko’s been doing just that recently.
In this edition of Canucks News & Rumors, I’ll comment about some of the action of the game and then look at some of the news and rumors emerging from the team. Because Demko was so central to the Canucks’ victory on Monday night, I’ll start with him.
Item One: Demko Was Stellar in Sixth Straight Start
Demko was in the net for his sixth straight game on Monday. He’s becoming a bit of a workhorse in Vancouver, much like his predecessor Jacob Markstrom did over the past few seasons for the Canucks. Also, similar to the Markstrom of the past, Demko is earning the role. Over his last six games, he’s put up a strong goals-against-average of 1.65 and a save percentage of .952. That’s simply amazing.
Although the Senators hold the bottom spot of the North Division, they had some life recently and gave their own starting goalie Joey Daccord his first NHL victory the night before against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Senators didn’t slow down on Monday night and peppered Demko with shots: he stopped 44 of 46 of them.
Demko kept his team from being overwhelmed by the hometown Senators, making big save after big save throughout the game. After he gave up the game-tying goal to the Senators’ Colin White, he rallied to shut the door. As a result of the win, Demko’s record for the season is now 10-10-1 with a goals-against-average of 2.74 and a save percentage of .920. He’s turned his game around after a slow start to the season.
Item Two: J.T. Miller Wins Game with an Overtime Goal
The Canucks’ J. T Miller scored the game-deciding goal in overtime against the Senators to carry his team to the win. He put a great move on Daccord and cashed in an assist from defenseman Quinn Hughes to end the game. It was Miller’s eighth goal of the season.
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Miller’s tally – along with Demko’s play in goal throughout the game – allowed the outworked and outshot Canucks to steal one from the young Senators. The bottom line is that the Canucks were fortunate to win; still, the point is that they did.
The 28-year-old Miller skated 23:30 minutes to lead all the Canucks’ forwards. He now has scored eight goals and 19 assists (for 27 points) in 29 games on the season.
Item Three: Elias Pettersson’s Nagging Injury Is Causing Him to Miss More Games
Sadly for the Canucks, it looks as if Elias Pettersson will miss even more games with his nagging upper-body injury. He’s not traveling with team on their four-game road trip and that means his next chance for game action will be when the team returns home on March 22. Fortunately, the Canucks seem to be winning without him; but, he is missed.
Item Four: Canucks’ Forward Tyler Motte Is Traveling with the Team
It looks as if there’s a chance that Tyler Motte might return soon from his ankle injury. He’s traveling with the team on its four-game road trip to both Ottawa and Montreal.
Because Motte has missed so many games – 16 in total, he can be activated from long-term injured reserve any time. That he’s traveling with the team suggests he’s likely to see action. The Canucks could use his tenacity on the ice. The 26-year-old Motte can also provide secondary scoring and had scored five goals and an assist in the 15 games before his injury.
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Item Five: Is Tanner Pearson on the Trade Market?
In a tweet yesterday, The Athletic’s Rick Dhaliwal reported that the Canucks hadn’t yet extended a contract offer to pending UFA Tanner Pearson. However, despite Pearson’s lower-than-normal numbers this season, there’s a sense that Pearson is a player the organization hopes to keep. That probably means that contract conversations might begin soon.
The 28-year-old Pearson earns $3.75 million this season, which is the final year on his four-year, $15 million contract he signed with the Los Angeles Kings in 2017. Although he had the best season of his NHL career in 2019-20 with 21 goals and 24 assists (for 45 points) in 69 games, he’s struggled a bit this season with only six goals and five assists in 32 games.
How those numbers impact his extension with the Canucks is up in the air; however, they are sure to impact his next contract – as does negotiating a contract in the era of COVID-19. I’m guessing the Canucks would hope to keep him under contract, but not at almost $4 million per season. What numbers can Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning and Pearson’s agent reach? That’s up in the air right now?
What’s Next for the Canucks?
There are a number of noteworthy items happening in Vancouver that impact the team. However, the Canucks have been playing at a 6-2 clip since the first of March, which is good. That has to do mainly with the re-emergence of Demko as a solid goalie.
However, there’s the business of hockey as well and some questions remain. For example, what about Jake Virtanen? Will he be traded? When will Pettersson be back; and, can the team hold together with their brightest star gone?
Can the team move up in the standings toward a potential playoff spot? It’s a long shot now, but that could change if the team continues to play at a 6-2 pace.
Those questions remain to be answered. We’ll soon see.