Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Managing goalie workloads over the next two months crucial for Canucks
2 months ago
You can’t go far in today’s NHL without high-quality goaltending on a nightly basis. Just ask the Carolina Hurricanes, who have three goalies with save percentages under .900.
So far, the Canucks have done a pretty decent job managing their netminders’ ice time. Thatcher Demko has played 22 of the team’s 30 games, while Casey DeSmith has started the remaining eight; a near-perfect 2/3 split of the games available. But that percentage has been slowly but surely going down in recent weeks.
The season started with about as perfect a system as you could ask for. Demko was playing Sunday to Friday games before DeSmith took on the “Saturday Night Starter” role, manning the net for all three of the Canucks’ Hockey Night in Canada appearances. Aside from not having the team’s superstar goalie playing in front of a national audience every weekend, it was a really good system!
But Demko’s been playing a whole lot more of late. With the schedule mellowing out to a more routine ‘one game every two days’ system, it’s been a lot easier for Rick Tocchet to justify letting it ride with his Vezina-caliber netminder. But if history with Demko and his backups is any indication, leaving DeSmith on the bench for too long is a potential recipe for trouble.
Across the last three seasons, multiple solid goaltenders have donned the green and blue; including Braden Holtby, Jaroslav Halak, and Spencer Martin. But all of those goalies faced similar issues behind Demko due to a lack of steady ice time; without regularly scheduled starts, their play suffered in the rare starts they did get.
That infrequent play became even more glaring when Demko was forced to miss games due to injury. Suddenly going from sitting on the bench for three straight weeks to starting 15 games in a row is a hard U-turn for any goalie to make.
Regular nights off would benefit Demko as well. The more he plays without a night off, the less recovery time he has between starts for his body to recover from the wear and tear of an NHL season. Having DeSmith play just one game every week could not only prevent an injury to one of the Canucks’ most important players, but it would also keep him much fresher ahead of an expected run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Nearly every recent Cup champion has thrived off a system that gave their starters more rest in the regular season to keep them healthy in the postseason. Darcy Kuemper and Adin Hill both played less than 60 games in their respective championship seasons, and while the Lightning have rode Andrei Vasilevskiy much more, that culminated in back surgery in September that forced him to miss the start of the season.
DeSmith’s regular starts early in the year were a crucial part of why he succeeded, even against stiff competition like the Panthers and Rangers. But after starting seven games across October and November, so far DeSmith has just one in December, a 2-0 shutout victory over the Minnesota Wild. As they head into the real grind of the regular season, trying to find more chances for DeSmith to take the net beyond the second game of a back-to-back will need to be a big priority for Tocchet, for the sake of both his goalies.
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