Photo Credit: Canucks / Twitter

News and Notes: Markstrom’s Success, Utica’s hot start, and Special Teams

After a frustrating, sluggish start to the season, the Canucks have been on a roll, winning five of their last six games. Here are some news and notes from the past week around the team.

On Jakob Markstrom…

A major key to Vancouver’s recent success has been their goaltending. They rank third in the league in goals against, having conceded just 17 goals through eight games.

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Jakob Markstrom was granted a leave of absence from the team last week in order to tend to a family matter back home in Sweden. While he was gone, Thatcher Demko was excellent, posting a .943 save percentage across three starts. Markstrom returned to the team on Sunday and put up one of the best performances of his career, stopping 38 of 40 shots made by the New York Rangers to help the Canucks squeeze out a 3-2 victory.

Head coach Travis Green was emotional after the game talking about Markstrom, who endured a very difficult week prior to the win in New York.

“He’s had a tough week… yeah,” Green said in an interview with Sportsnet, appearing to suppress his own emotions when asked about Markstrom. “To see how he played tonight, it’s good for him, it’s good for our team. That’s a moment… I know he hasn’t talked about his past week, but he’s had a hard week. You feel for a guy like that, that competes the way he does and loves to win. He’s a real warrior for our team. We were a little nervous putting him in tonight; he hadn’t had a lot of time on the ice. I was happy for him.”

Players on the team also spoke about how meaningful Markstrom’s return was.

“Great, just great,” forward Tyler Motte said. “Coming off his absence and coming right back in and having a night like he had tonight, that provides a lot of energy for our group.”

“Marky is one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” Canuck winger Tim Schaller said. “We all have his back. I’ll go to battle for that guy any day. That says a lot about him as a person. It’s pretty inspiring to see what he’s doing.”

Markstrom’s story has been a remarkable one over the past few years. A key part of the return of the Roberto Luongo trade back in 2014, Markstrom found himself on waivers just a few months after being acquired by the Canucks. He would spend the majority of the 2014-15 with AHL Utica before carving out a backup gig behind Ryan Miller in the following seasons. Over the past two years, Markstrom has finally evolved into a reliable starting goaltender. Last year, he even earned Vezina Trophy consideration. If his play early on is any indication, we might be seeing the best of Markstrom this season.

On Utica’s hot start…

Speaking of waivers, the Canucks made a controversial decision prior to the start of the 2019-20 season by sending both Sven Baertschi and Nikolai Goldobin down to the AHL. Both players cleared through waivers and have spent the early part of the AHL season proving they deserve to be playing in the NHL.

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“It was a tough pill to swallow,” Baertschi said to the Utica Dispatch-Observer this weekend. “But, I knew I was coming to a great place. So, it was something I was looking forward to. For me, it was coming here making a statement that I belong in the NHL. That was my goal. So far, I think it is going well.”

Baertschi, who missed most of last season due to injury, has eight points in four games thus far with the Comets. Goldobin has nine points in four games, while Reid Boucher leads the team with 10. The trio’s veteran presence in Utica has helped the team to a 5-0 start with a whopping 29 goals scored.

It’ll be interesting to see what this leads to. Baertschi and Goldobin dominating in the AHL will certainly give them a case for a recall sooner rather than later, especially if the Canucks continue to struggle to get depth offence. The team currently sits in the middle of the pack offensively with 25 goals scored in eight games. That said, this could also potentially lead to a trade. If both players continue with their tear, it’ll only increase their value around the league. Regardless, it’s difficult to imagine the Canucks can keep these guys down in the AHL for long.

On the special teams…

The Canucks’ special teams have existed on polar opposite ends of the spectrum this season. Their penalty kill has been excellent, having killed off 25 of 27 power-play opportunities against. That 92.6 penalty kill percentage is second-best in the league, behind San Jose by just a hair. Their power play, on the other hand, hasn’t been thriving. The Canucks have scored on just five of 34 opportunities, and their 14.7 power-play efficiency ranks 24th in the league.

Jay Beagle spoke after Sunday’s game in New York about how the penalty kill is something multiple depth players on the team take pride in.

“We’ve got five guys who can really kill penalties,” Beagle said to Sportsnet. “You’ve got to have guys who love to kill, and I think all five of us love to kill. It shows. There’s a lot of pride in it. It helps you win hockey games.

The power play is a different animal. Heading into that Sunday game in New York, the Canucks had scored just four goals all season on the power-play. They didn’t score on any of their six chances the previous night in New Jersey, prompting Green to make a change. Rather than using veteran Alex Edler at the point, rookie Quinn Hughes got promoted to the top unit. Hughes would pick up an assist on a power-play goal by Bo Horvat in the 3-2 win over the Rangers.

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“It’s up to everyone,” Green said to Sportsnet after the loss in New Jersey. “It’s not up to one, two (players); it’s up to all five guys. Good power-play units, they run together, cohesive. I thought we were better. I thought we got a little kickstart when (Hughes) went on it. We got some good looks, especially there in the second period.