The Vancouver Canucks and playing an ungodly number of games in a condensed amount of time — name a more iconic duo, I’ll wait.
The players within the NHL bubbles knew there were bigger fish to fry and chose to boycott Thursday and Friday’s games while encouraging viewers to have potentially uncomfortable conversations with their loved ones about the issues currently going on in the world.
With that pause in play, however, comes a schedule change for all four of the remaining playoff series. In the case of the Canucks and Vegas, the schedule change gives this already thoroughly entertaining series an entirely new dynamic — the potential for the backup goaltenders to get involved.
If this series goes the distance, the Canucks and Golden Knights will play five games over the span of seven days, with two back to backs:
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) August 28, 2020
Technically speaking, Thatcher Demko already became a part of this series in the game one blowout loss when he came in during the third period as the Canucks attempted to put the deflating defeat behind them in a hurry.
At the other end of the ice — and much to the dismay of Marc Andre Fleury’s agent Allan Walsh — it’s been all Robin Lehner for the Knights through games one and two.
Given Fleury’s past playoff success, Vegas is obviously more comfortable going to either one of their goaltenders, but given how instrumental Markstrom has been in the Canucks’ success thus far, it’s hard to imagine the Canucks would be jumping at the chance to give Thatcher Demko a start in a series where one bad performance could change the entire complexion.
The decision to let Demko get a bit of game action in game number one could pay dividends for the Canucks should they need to go to him after a Markstrom start. Getting proper game action and facing real shots — albeit five — is huge for a goaltender who hasn’t played a real game in over five months.
That being said, Markstrom doesn’t like to take nights off and is extremely confident in his abilities.
And really, why shouldn’t he be?
I believe it was the great Jim Robson who said that Markstrom would play on crutches if he had to — or was he talking about someone else?
The only issue is Markstrom — much like every other goaltender who’s played the game — isn’t invincible. Injuries happen, but they typically occur less often if a goaltender doesn’t overwork their body.
I chatted with noted goaltending guru Kevin Woodley about the Canucks’ goaltending situation heading into these games, who offered the following:
“It’s tough because Markstrom’s rested going into 3-4 this weekend and you’re either looking to end a series or stave off elimination in 6-7. There’s no question fatigue could be an issue by those last two games and it will most likely show up in sloppy details in his game, not unlike what happened game 4 vs Minny with all the post-play mistakes and sharp angle goals.”
The Canucks managed to — as Markstrom put it — score more goals than the Wild in that game Woodley is referencing, but that was arguably one of his worst performances of the season. Simply put, the Canucks might not be able to afford giving up that many goals against a team like Vegas. Typically, the further a team goes in the playoffs, the smaller the margin for error becomes, so the Canucks will undoubtedly need Markstrom to be sharp.
But at what point could the Canucks look to Demko?
“Markstrom’s your MVP, so unless there are clear signs of fatigue and they have a cushion — maybe up 3-2 going into Game 6 and knowing you’ll only get a 75% Marky if you keep riding him vs giving him a game off and getting him at 100% for the next one — it’s hard to see them going to Demko. The good news is Demko got a taste and looked settled but there was no pressure. Look at Francouz in Colorado. He was fine all season, in fact, he was really good all season, and he just doesn’t look like the same goalie right now, whether it’s because he’s coming off the pause and hasn’t found his game yet, or maybe his first time in the playoffs is too big a moment for him right now. Whatever the reason, his game has fallen off compared to the regular season”
The most likely scenario is the Canucks are going to ask their All-Star goaltender to continue to stop a plethora of shots and get them through this series while Demko waits patiently in the wings, ready to step in and become a hero if you-know-what goes sideways.