By: Brayden Fengler / November 12, 2023
The Canucks are the talk of the town right now, the team is playing better than they have in recent memory and currently sits fourth in the entire league. All key players are largely playing their part, the powerplay is killer, the defence and backchecking are dialed in, and as always Thatcher Demko has been amazing in the net.
Over the last few seasons, on many occasions, Demko has been the only shining star on an otherwise bleak and depressing Canucks team. However now that his teammates have finally joined him in the limelight it’s important not to overlook the amazing work that Demko is still doing to backstop his club.
Any Way You Slice It.
Objectively Demko is among the best goalies in the league right now, there is no question about it. Although he is in good company with other league leaders such as Vegas’ Adin Hill or the King’s Cam Talbot, Demko is near to being and has already been on some nights, the NHL’s best Goalie as we approach the halfway mark in November.
Thatcher Demko’s save percentage on the year is a remarkable .935% over ten games played so far this season. This number is bolstered by two games this year where Demko has already delivered a shutout. The first being in the team’s contest against the St. Louis Blues on Oct 27th, and the second coming just a few games ago in the team’s 2-0 victory over the Dallas Stars. In both outings, Demko still faced over 20 shots.
Beyond the shutouts, Demko has maintained his impressive save percentage thanks to a myriad of strong performances over his small sample size to start the year. The netminder has kept his per-game save percentages about .930 in every game so far this season with the exception of only three contests.
Considering quantity of games played while looking at save percentage Demko is narrowly behind Adin Hill across all NHL goalies. However, in looking at “expected goals” on the season Demko is currently significantly ahead of the competition sitting at 13.5 goals saved above expected, with no other goalie in the NHL currently having cracked the double-digit mark in that stat column.
Lastly, in considering Demko’s goals-against average, the Canucks tendy is one of only three goalies who have played 10 or more games on the year, while holding a save percentage above .900% that have also maintained a goals-against average below 2.0. Demko’s GGA currently sits at a remarkable 1.96 on the season. Demko is top of the league and in select company when looking at the broad picture of NHL goalies.
To put Demko’s remarkable play under one final comparisson. Last season, by this point in November, Thatcher Demko had played 10 games for the Canucks, and despite his best efforts for the team, had a .874 save percentage and a 4.01 goals-against average.
We know that the numbers here are not indicative of a significant solo improvement by Demko. Last year’s Canucks are not this year’s Canucks, they’re playing much better to start this season. What this does show however is how lethal Demko can be when the team in front of him is playing their part, and he’s not always having to clean up after them. It’s wild to see that a good Canucks team has helped Demko cut his GAA by over 50% compared to this time last year.
Notable Saves by Demko
On paper, Demko has looked fantastic, but the one place that he’s of course looked better has been the ice. Night after night Demko has demonstrated how pivotal it is for the team to have a goalie that can play at his level.
There have been a few times so far this season when a mad scramble in front of the Canucks net has ended in Demko finding the puck and putting a stop to the play. However, there may be no better example of this, than Demko’s glove save robbery after he was scrambling to track the laterally moving puck in the team’s game against Dallas. This play demonstrated Demko’s ability to quickly react to centered pucks even if he isn’t fully set up positionally.
The Canucks are also still the Canucks, and a few times this season, they have allowed opposing offenders to slip through for breakaways. A key move for attacking players in these situations is to attempt a quick on-the-ice five-hole shot, as it allows the puck to travel with speed, forces the goalie to drop, and is a quick shot to release, which is key when being trailed.
Demko’s reflexes have allowed him to swat away these attempts with ease, like this one from their Edmonton game. It’s defensive blunders like this that can quickly tilt a contest away from a team, but as always, Demko is coming in clutch during these lapses on the Canucks blueline.
Putting it all together, Demko has demonstrated his continued dominance this season, not in just tracking pucks during an opposing team’s control of the Cancuks zone, or during a solo break-in like the one above. But Demko has sustainably impressed with his ability to follow the play and backstop the Canucks during moments where the opposing team out maneuvers or out passes Canucks defenders.
The Canucks have improved their defensive game to start this season, but when he has to, Demko can still clean up their mess.
Sustainability and Load Management
The Canuck’s new backup netminder Casey DeSmith has dressed for a total of five games so far to start this NHL season, leaving Demko with 67% of the starts. This is a sustainable practice for Demko and the Canucks, especially if DeSmith can continue his level of play. DeSmith has clinched three wins so far for the team this season boasting a .919% Save percentage.
The Canucks may need to deploy Demko more as they play more important games toward the end of the year. However, it’s great to see that right now, they aren’t getting wins as a result of overusing their star netminder. Making Demko’s performance and the team’s largely sustainable based on what we have seen so far.