Casey DeSmith is taking the Canucks’ starter role with growing confidence, and the numbers back it up

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
3 months ago
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Most goalies keep their confidence far from the surface, especially when they’re not the number one guy. But after Tuesday’s win over the Sabres, Casey DeSmith was oozing with confidence.
“This is some of the best hockey that I feel like I’ve played in my career,” DeSmith said. “I feel really confident right now out there.”
“It’s a really fast league, it’s a tough league to be a goalie in for sure. But I feel good about where I’m at and enjoying this time in the net for sure.”
The best play of his career? Dig a little deeper, and he might be onto something.
The Canucks are 2-1-1 since Thatcher Demko suffered a knee injury against the Jets, forcing DeSmith suddenly into the spotlight. And while it hasn’t been a flawless transition so far, DeSmith’s confidence in the net is clearly growing with every passing game.
At first glance, DeSmith’s stat line is nothing to write home about. His 9-5-6 record and .900 save percentage align with the numbers most NHL backups produce.
But they don’t tell the entire story; when it comes to even-strength play, Casey DeSmith has actually been one of the league’s best goaltenders.
According to Natural Stat Trick, DeSmith’s save percentage at 5v5 sits at a crisp .925, ranking him 10th best among goalies with at least 900 minutes played (1,049 mins). For context, Demko sits just three spots behind at .923, albeit having played over double the ice time (over 2,300 mins).
DeSmith’s numbers have suffered most on the penalty kill. Behind the 17th-ranked PK unit, DeSmith’s save percentage is .802, the third-lowest among goalies with over 80 minutes played in that scenario. Demko has posted an .890 in that metric, the ninth-best in that category.
The truth is the Canucks haven’t been doing much different in front of DeSmith than they were when Demko was in goal before. Rick Tocchet recently highlighted blocked shots as part of the game plan for protecting the netfront, but that number hasn’t dramatically risen in the last four games. They’ve even been bested in the block count in two of their previous three outings.
Part of it has come down to more reps with the penalty kill units. So far, across 12 shorthanded opportunities in these last four starts, DeSmith has allowed just two goals. Both came in the first game against the Avalanche, including a 4v3 overtime winner from Valeri Nichushkin. Since then, DeSmith and the Canucks’ PK have come out unscathed with eight straight kills.
As DeSmith mentioned after Thursday’s win over the Canadiens, his confidence is doing all the talking on the ice. Saves in earlier contests that might’ve involved more scrambling to secure rebounds are nowhere near as prevalent now. As the 32-year-old has settled into his role, his puck tracking has followed suit, with far cleaner first saves leading to fewer second opportunities overall.
When DeSmith explained the difficulty of playing in lower event games after beating the Sabres, he also provided a window into why everything is clicking for him and his Canucks teammates now that he’s playing more regularly.
“It’s just a little bit more challenging to stay engaged in the game if you’re not seeing a ton of rubber,” DeSmith said.
“If you are seeing a lot of Grade As [scoring opportunities] without a lot of shots, it can add a little stress. But that’s just the life of a goalie.”
Now that he’s seeing that rubber on a nightly basis rather than once every few weeks, the best DeSmith has to offer might still be yet to come.

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