Thatcher Demko has as much to do with the Canucks’ PK turnaround as all those shorthanded goals

Photo credit:© Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 year ago
Yesterday, we wrote at length about the Vancouver Canucks’ dramatically-improved penalty kill under head coach Rick Tocchet.
The Canucks, of course, backed us up by going 0% on the PK, letting in a goal just 22 seconds into the St. Louis Blues’ one and only power play on the evening.
Don’t worry, though. The Canucks’ shorthanded performance is still well worth writing home about, and we’ve still got plenty more to say about it.
In case you missed yesterday’s piece and don’t just want to click on it up there, here’s a brief recap of what we’ve covered so far:
  • The Canucks were on pace for the worst PK in history under Bruce Boudreau.
  • Since Boudreau was fired and Tocchet was hired, the Canucks have put up a 78.6% PK success rate, which is still only 20th in the league during that time.
  • BUT, the Canucks have also scored 12 shorthanded goals since Tocchet took over.
  • The NHL now compiles a stat called “Net PK” which counts shorthanded goals as PK “wins.”
  • In that category, the Canucks are rocking a 92.0% rate post-Tocchet. Were that number to last over an entire regular season, it would be within the top-five Net PKs of all-time.
  • That’s pretty good.
Toward the end of the article, we took a stab at the reasons behind this shorthanded comeback story, and concluded that “he short answers are structure, letting his best players take the lead, and opening up PK opportunities to a wider variety of skaters. And hey, the return of Thatcher Demko and arrival of Filip Hronek certainly hasn’t hurt.”
Which is, for the most part, fair enough.
But upon a deeper examination of those PK stats, we need to upgrade the commentary on Demko’s impact.
The return of Demko hasn’t hurt the Canucks’ penalty killing, it’s true. In fact, it’s done the opposite of that. The numbers say that, more than any other singular factor, Demko has healed the Canucks’ PK woes, and is the biggest reason why the unit has gone from league-worst to historically-impressive.
We should be clear here that we mean the return of Demko, and the real Demko, at that. Not that imposter Demko who struggled mightily at the outset of the season before taking an extended trip to the IR. When we talk about the Canucks’ early-season goaltending woes whilst shorthanded, we have to include early-season Demko in that conversation, as well as Spencer Martin and Collin Delia.
But we’ll all probably agree that, upon returning from injury, Demko has been back to his old, stingy self. Especially when the Canucks are down a skater. And it’s that Demko’s return that has made all the difference.
Shoutout to our pals over at NaturalStatTrick, who track so many stats that these sorts of things are remarkably easy to figure out. NST allows us to filter a team’s save percentage by situation and date range, among other factors.
From the start of the season (October 12) to the day Demko returned from injury (February 27), the Canucks posted the worst shorthanded save percentage of any team in the NHL. By a considerable margin, actually.
Each of the 31 other NHL teams posted a shorthanded save percentage in the 80s during that same timeframe, ranging from 89.40% (New York Islanders) to 82.10% (Seattle Kraken).
The Canucks? A scant 77.57%. That’s so far behind the rest of the pack, it would stand out as a statistical anomaly…if we all didn’t know firsthand how legitimate and accurate those results were.
In essence, Canucks’ goalies — early-season Demko included — spent the first five months of the season letting in one out of every four power play shots against. If you’re looking for factors at play in that “on pace for worst PK in league history” thing, this is undoubtedly a huge one.
The stats since Demko’s return (in general and to form) are remarkable. Since February 27, the Canucks have posted a shorthanded save percentage of 91.43%, third-best in the league behind Carolina and Washington.
That’s an improvement of nearly 15%, and it’s almost all on the head of Demko, who has played in 12 of the 15 games during that span.
“But wait,” you say, “Hasn’t the penalty kill also greatly improved during that same time, under the guidance of new coaches Tocchet and Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar? Wouldn’t an improved PK also result in the team’s shorthanded save percentage increasing?”
We’ve got a real chicken-and-egg situation on our hands, it seems. Except, not really. The theory would go that an improved penalty kill structure should result in a lower quality of shots against while shorthanded, which would make a goalie’s job easier. And, to be sure, that has happened and is happening.
But the good folks at NaturalStatTrick also keep track of “save percentage on high-danger shots” in all situations, and that stat proves that Demko is still the deciding factor here.
Prior to February 27, the Canucks had a high-danger shorthanded save percentage of 70.45%. That was the second-lowest in the league, ahead of only the Los Angeles Kings.
Since Demko has re-emerged as the Canucks’ starting goalie, the Canucks have posted a high-danger shorthanded save percentage of 83.33%, which is ninth-best in the league post-February 27.
That means that, even in the case of a genuine power play scoring chance against, Demko has saved the Canucks an extra goal out of every ten, and almost two out of every ten. How many PP goals has that, alone, saved the Canucks from surrendering?
A lot.
It’s not enough evidence to say that Demko is solely and singlehandedly responsible for the Canucks’ rocketing up the statistical PK ranks. For a rise that dramatic, there must be multiple factors at play. Tocchet deserves ample credit, as do all those shorthanded goal-scorers. But it’s definitely enough to say that Demko is, if not the primary reason behind the improvement, at least a leading factor.
And so long as he maintains form, it’s reason enough for optimism that the Canucks won’t find themselves at the bottom of that stat column again anytime soon.

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