Canucks Goaltending Deserves More Credit

It’s one of the most under-discussed stories of this young Canucks season. ‘The Flow’ aka ‘Brockstar’ is stealing all of the headlines in Vancouver with a rookie performance for the ages. He’s on pace to shatter the rookie scoring record for both goals and points. It’s given the city unheralded excitement, especially since the team sits in a playoff spot after American Thanksgiving.

Lost in all the Boeser hoopla, the success of head coach Travis Green, and the lack of playing time for the Sedins, is just how good the Canucks goaltenders have been. Overshadowed by some bad early goals, the Canucks’ Swedish duo is providing some of the best goaltending in the league.

Ryan Miller, Who?

For too long, Miller was given preference over Jacob Markstrom by former head coach Willie Desjardins. Even though Markstrom was ready for a bigger load, he was shafted by the former coach. With Markstrom finally in the spotlight, he’s flourishing as a quasi-starter.

His ‘backup’ Anders Nilsson, has been just as good if not better than Markstrom.

Together, the tandem has provided the Canucks with above-average goaltending. Even though their inexperience created a wealth of questions heading into the season, the two netminders erased the doubts about their ability to perform.

Anders Nilsson has performed admirably in a Canucks sweater. (Amy Irvin/THW)

The most frustrating aspect of their performance is the early goals both have allowed. That applies more to Markstrom than Nilsson, but both goalies have an unfortunate reputation for giving up a soft or questionable goal within the first couple minutes of the game. It’s frustrating for the coach and team but the real problem is that it’s overshadowing how well they’ve played early on.

There’s a lot of criticism that comes with the goaltending territory if you’re not performing. Even the best goalies in the league go on bad runs. Both Carey Price and Tuukka Rask are in the bottom five in the NHL right now in terms of even-strength save percentage.  At the other end of the spectrum, is Markstrom and Nilsson.

How Good Are Nilsson & Markstrom?

If we erased some of those bad early goals, there’s no doubt that the Canucks would be the best team in the league in terms of goals against at evens. Nilsson and Markstrom have led the Canucks to a 2.0 goals against per-60, the third-best mark in the NHL. Both of their save percentages at even-strength show that they deserve most of the credit for that.

Markstrom is ninth among starting goaltenders with a .928 even-strength save percentage while Nilsson is second league-wide with a .951 save percentage.

Jacob Markstrom
Jacob Markstrom is showing signs that he’s ready for a starting role.
(Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)

Before you start giving Travis Green credit for structuring the defence, there’s something else you should know.

The Canucks aren’t as porous defensively as they were under Desjardins, but they’re still allowing more scoring chances than the average team. Their 29.16 scoring chances allowed per 60 at even strength is 10th highest in the league. In terms of shots allowed, they’re smack dab in the middle of the league at 16th overall.

Despite giving up chances, the goalies are standing on their heads and outdueling the opposing goalie on most nights. On their recent road trip, Markstrom stood tall and even though the Canucks were outshot by the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canucks held a 4-1 lead. It was a similar story the next night in Pittsburgh, as the Canucks held a 4-1 lead in a high-shooting affair against the Penguins.

Canucks Regressing to the Mean

Overall, the Canucks are an average team in the NHL. Not good, not bad, but pretty darn average. Look at their goal differential, overall points, power play percentage, shots on goal, or even average age, and the Canucks are enforcing the averages across the board.

For a team that finished near the bottom of the league for two straight seasons, this is a big improvement.

One area where the Canucks are above average is in net. The league-average save-percentage has dropped to .911 this year. Markstrom and Nilsson are doing their part to bring that average back up with a combined .919 save percentage. They’re coming up with the big saves as well. The tandem is sixth overall in high-danger save percentage and third overall in scoring chance save percentage.

All the talk of bad goals is slowly disappating. This tandem has been rock solid in net for the Canucks, and they deserve more credit.