Canucks: Casey DeSmith still DeServes DeStart in Game 3

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
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Goaltending controversies are nothing new in the Vancouver hockey market.
Goaltending crises? Those are a little rarer, and it’s the latter that we have on our hand early on in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If you missed the news, you’re probably on the wrong website. But starting goaltender and frequent savior Thatcher Demko has exited the series after just one game, leaving backup Casey DeSmith and young third-stringer Arturs Silovs to handle the netminding duties for the remainde of Round One and an indeterminate time thereafter.
That’s a crisis, alright.
And it’s a case of so far, so not good.
DeSmith got the start in Game 2, and you know the rest by now. The fans in Rogers Arena began the night chanting “Let’s Go Casey” only to be interrupted by a goal against just 1:14 into the game.
It didn’t get much better from there. The Canucks then poured a preposterous amount of shot attempts and scoring chances toward Nashville’s Juuse Saros, but fell 4-1 to the Predators all the same.
The numbers, on their own, are pretty ugly. DeSmith surrendered three goals against on 15 total shots (the fourth was into an empty net), which gave him a save percentage of .800. Just ten of those shots against came at even-strength, but all three goals did, which leaves DeSmith with an EV save percentage of just .700.
According to the fancy statisticians over at MoneyPuck, it was actually a little worse than even the percentages make it look. They measure that DeSmith allowed 1.6 more goals against than he was expected to, given the amount, quality, and danger of shots faced.
It’s, all in all, a rather dismal postseason debut for a player with some mighty big skates to fill.
This has, naturally, led to some debate as to who should start Game 3.
Do the Canucks give DeSmith another shot?
Or do they try out the shinier, newer option in Silovs?
Well, to be clear, there may be an unofficial debate going on, but head coach Rick Tocchet has already let it be known that DeSmith will be starting Game 3.
And, as you can probably guess by having clicked on the headline, we do, for the most part, agree with that decision.
But we do understand the Silovs side of the debate. Silovs did finish the regular season at 3-0-1, and he did have a lower GAA than DeSmith at 2.47 to 2.89 (though DeSmith edged him out on save percentage, .896 to .881.)
Silovs, having just turned 23 a month ago, is also obviously the option with the greatest upward potential. DeSmith very much is what he is at this point. But Silovs could still become something great, and that could potentially start right now.
History is littered with rookie goalies going on epic runs in the playoffs. Ken Dryden. Patrick Roy. Cam Ward.
And Silovs is no stranger to legendary status himself. He did lead Team Latvia on a wildly-unexpected run to the bronze medal at the 2023 World Championship this past summer, being named the tournament’s MVP and top goaltender and becoming a national hero in the process.
But as honoured and cherished a tradition as the World Championships may be, they don’t hold a candle to the pressure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Throwing Silovs into what has now become a five-game series wouldn’t quite qualify as cruel, but it’s a tough spot to put a young goalie into unless absolutely necessary.
Which it isn’t, yet. Because at least as far as Game 3 is concerned, DeSmith is still more than deserving of a start.
That’s definitely not on the basis of playoff experience. Game 2 was just the second NHL playoff game of his career, and he’s only added 14 more games of AHL postseason action to that over the years.
But it’s DeSmith’s experience as a starting goalie in the NHL in general that counts here.
DeSmith has never entered a season as the de facto starter. But thanks to the oft-injured and inconsistent nature of some of his Pittsburgh starters, like Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, DeSmith has spent plenty of time as the effective #1 over a six-year career.
He played 36 games for the Penguins in 2018/19, posting a .916 save percentage.
Last year, he played 38 games for the Penguins and managed a .905.
His stint covering for Demko’s prior injury in Vancouver at the tail-end of the regular season wasn’t exactly a stellar showing. But DeSmith did look much better earlier in the year, and thus he does have the ability to provide a higher quality of goaltending if he can just get rolling again.
He’ll get the chance in Game 3, but the leash may be short.
Which, we suppose, is fair enough. DeSmith did look shaky in Game 2, and noticeably unconfident, reaching behind himself post-save on far too many occasions.
But let’s examine the actual goals against.
The first was undeniably the result of a weird bounce.
Sure, DeSmith’s movement and reaction time are not exactly ideal on that play. But this was far from an example of typical hockey, and is just the sort of thing that can happen at any ol’ time. Those advanced stats would probably have this as an expected save or an unexpected goal. But it’s really just bad luck, for the most part.
The second has more room for critique.
DeSmith definitely drops a little early here and leaves a gap above his left shoulder that is ultimately exploited by Filip Forsberg.
But let’s run that name by again. Filip Forsberg. The same Filip Forsberg who has scored 287 goals in the regular season, including 48 this year, and 30 more in the postseason?
Look at the room Forsberg was given here. He’s got a full ten feet to patiently approach the net and select his shot unimpeded. Sorry to say, but Forsberg is probably finding a way to score in that situation approximately seven or eight times out of ten. That’s with DeSmith, Demko, or Dominik Hasek in net.
A goal against that could have been played better, but probably would have gone in one way or another.
And then there’s goal against #3, the most complicated to dissect.
First, there is that awful, awful Elias Pettersson giveaway that sends the Preds heading back toward DeSmith’s net. Anthony Beauvillier corrals it and then fires an awkward shot past the stick of the Canucks’ defender that DeSmith fails to absorb, instead knocking it into the slot with his right pad.
This rebound is definitely enough to say that DeSmith wears some of the blame on this particular goal. But, again, it’s Pettersson who lets his check, Colton Sissons, get his stick on the rebound and offers virtually no resistance as Sissons bangs it in, unimpeded.
If we’re handing out blame-cards for this one, Pettersson gets the first one, and then we start talking about DeSmith.
So, that’s three goals against, and DeSmith could probably be held responsible for a cumulative one of them.
As disappointing as the loss was overall, that’s simply not a good enough reason to supplant the season-long backup goalie with the young third-stringer. Nor is it reason to not believe that DeSmith still gives the Canucks the best chance of a win in Game 3.
Sure, DeSmith might have a bad game, and the Canucks might lose again, and at that point it’s probably the Silovs Show.
But we’d argue that the odds of Silovs blowing it in Game 3 are at least as high, if not higher.
DeSmith’s history of filling in for starting goaltenders in times of need is exactly why the Canucks brought him in via trade this October. The job isn’t just his to lose, it’s his, and he’s done nothing to lose it yet.
The events of Game 3 will determine whether we still feel the same way about Game 4.
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