Paterson’s Point: With so many key games still to come, will Canucks keep Demko’s workload under 60 starts this season?

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
4 months ago
It won’t go down in his official National Hockey League statistics, but Saturday’s appearance at All-Star weekend was another work day in a season full of them for Vancouver Canucks star netminder Thatcher Demko. While the mid-season showcase lacked the intensity of games with two points on the line, it was another day that Demko had to strap on the pads and get the job done.
And there will be plenty more of them in the weeks ahead. The question now is how closely will the Canucks monitor Demko’s workload moving into the stretch run? Without question, the hockey club is going to need its workhorse who has recorded a career-best eight straight victories and is 14-1-1 in his last 16 starts. But the fact of the matter is he can’t play every night and the hockey club needs to resist the urge to lean too heavily on Demko in order to keep him fresh and ready for the playoffs. Yes, the Vancouver Canucks are headed to the post-season and a great deal of their success there will likely fall on the broad shoulders of the 28-year-old puck stopper.
Demko has started 35 of the Canucks 49 games this season. To this point, only three goalies around the league have started more. At this current rate, Demko is projected to get the net in 59 of the team’s 82 games. That’s not an outrageous number for a bona fide starter, but it has entered ‘this is definitely a situation worth keeping an eye on’ territory with so many key Western Conference match-ups down the stretch. How will the Canucks handle their Demko decisions moving forward?
The Canucks have three sets of back-to-backs remaining on their schedule (February 10th and 11th at Detroit and Washington, February 19th and 20th at Minnesota and Colorado and April 2nd and 3rd at Vegas and Arizona). Those will almost certainly be split in some fashion. Beyond that, the Canucks will have a choice to make in goal on an almost nightly basis. 
With the stakes as high as they are to win the West and get a more favourable first round playoff opponent, will the Canucks feel the need to lean on Demko more than they have to this point in the season which is 71% of the starts so far?
Casey DeSmith has proven to be a terrific pick-up for the Canucks and has delivered wins in half – and points in 11 – of his 14 starts (7-3-4). However, he has just one win in his four since Christmas. Will the coaching staff continue to put its faith in DeSmith when the Canucks hit a stretch of key conference games? Half of DeSmith’s 14 starts have come against Western opponents. He was terrific in an early season win in Edmonton, but otherwise has faced only mid to lower tier Western competition (Minnesota twice, Calgary, Nashville, San Jose and St. Louis in his last start on January 24th). 
With 33 games from the All Star break to the end of the season, the current pace would have Demko slated to start 24 of them. But with four games against Los Angeles, three each with Vegas and Winnipeg, two left against Colorado (not to mention both of their games left with Boston) and one each versus Edmonton and Dallas, the club is going to have to fight the desire to play the wheels off Demko down the stretch. Those games are going to be important, certainly, but not nearly as important as keeping Demko healthy and ready for the team’s first playoff contests in four years.
The Canucks begin with eight of 10 out of the break away from home. That stretch may give us an indication of whether the team will turn to its back-up more than it has to this point in the season. If not, then there is a strong possibility that Demko will exceed 60-plus starts on the season. That feels like it’s putting him in the danger zone of two years ago when he established a career-high with 61 starts but couldn’t finish the season due to a workload-related injury.
Last season, seven goalies across the league started 60 or more games and only one of them (Jake Oettinger in Dallas) advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. So there is probably a lesson to be learned that every goalie has his limit.
The Canucks have established one of the best netminding tandems in the league this season and will have to trust the fact they’ve got two guys that can deliver victories. 
And more than that, they need to keep the big picture in mind as they push toward the playoffs.

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