Brayden Fengler / March 5, 2021
It is now a historical fact that the Canucks have beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs without Elias Pettersson, and in that same game, Jake Virtanen very nearly got a hat trick. Prior to Thursday night’s game, a sentence like the one above would’ve had no place on this website, because this site covers real events and that sentence clearly sounds like a work of fiction. However, as they say, truth is stranger. Yet still, the Canucks still scramble for consistency beyond just this one game.
Pettersson was absent from Thursday’s game and since the Canucks were facing off against the best team in their division, the safe money was on Toronto to win. However, the Canucks kept TO to only 1 goal last night, with all the big names like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares all kept off the score sheet. 25 games ago a night like this could’ve been the sign of a fantastic season to come for Vancouver. Unfortunately though, with the Canucks’ record where it’s at, Thursday’s game is likely to amount to very little in the grand scale of this Vancouver season.
The Canucks Aren’t Dictating the Pace of Their Games
The Canucks are 2-2 in their last four games, which on its own isn’t a terrible record. But when you look beyond only the most recent games, it’s clear that the overall performance of this team has been anything but so evenly balanced.
The reality is that the Canucks are at the mercy of how the opposing teams decide the games should be played. The Canucks have rarely looked in charge of a Hockey game from start to finish this season. Even in their 3-1 win against the Leafs, There was no shortage of the standard fare Canucks errors we’ve seen all season. For example, J.T. Miller passing the puck perfectly to his teammate… who was actually on his way out of the attacking zone, during a delayed offside. Or Alex Edler sending pucks into the shin guards of opposing players while in the defensive end, allowing easy turnovers.
Numbers Don’t Lie
It’s not just the eye test that the Canucks are often failing. Proof of their ineptitude ability when it comes to setting the pace of games, is most evident in a few damning stats. The Canucks lead the league in “losses after trailing by the end of the first period”. In 11 games this year the Canucks have taken a seemingly predetermined loss, after being unable to shift momentum in any remaining period of play. The more you dig down, the more painful stats like this get for the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have been handed 15 regulation losses this season. So that means that 73% of those losses came from games where the team was down in the first period and couldn’t figure out a way back throughout the remaining 40 minutes.
On the flip side of that coin as well, when the Canucks are leading after the first period, they have only secured victory 64% of the time this season. It has often felt like the Canuck’s ability to hold a lead this year was more or less a coin flip. It’s now clear that that is in fact nearly the case. The Canucks rank 9th in the league when it comes to how often teams have blown a first period lead to lose a game. More importantly, they are also the worst out of the North Division in this category.
Demko is a Go
I think we can stop referring to Thatcher Demko as bubble Demko and instead we can just call him “starter Demko”. The performances and “startability” if you will, of Demko and Braden Holtby in earlier games, was not nearly as clear cut as it appears to be now. But what is overly clear now, is that Demko should be playing more.
Demko really has been put through a trial by fire this year. As he likely had the worst defence playing in front of him, compared to any earlier point in his career with the Canucks. Now, after finding his groove despite the challenges he has faced this year, It’s clear that Demko is who the Canucks should be playing the most.
This is also not just because Demko is their future, but because he is their present. Demko has shown a growing consistency in between the pipes. This is something that the team as a whole can’t often provide and something that Braden Holtby certainly can’t either. This is evident by many plays in Holtby’s last game, most noticeably this one shown below, as Holtby’s poor positioning cost a likely preventable goal.
Please Play It Smart Vancouver
While a distant glimmer of hope remains for this season, the reality is that this campaign is all but over for Vancouver. The Canucks may not be able to win it all this year, but they can still find consistency in their game if they try. They need to play Demko like the starter he is meant to be, and they need to keep playing with intensity right out of the gate, like we saw briefly against Toronto. They won’t win every game with those two fixes made. But they will definitely increase their chances of playing meaningful hockey for the whole 60 minutes.