Thatcher Demko’s subpar start to the season is exposing the Canucks’ weaknesses

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
1 year ago
While it’s a tortured experience being a Vancouver Canucks fan, one thing that the fanbase has been privileged to witness is good goaltending, especially over the past 15 years.
During their history as a franchise, some of the biggest stars to play on Canada’s West Coast have been goalies. From Kirk McLean to Roberto Luongo, Canucks fans have been privy to some excellent goaltending and have made deep connections with the men behind the masks.
In recent years, Thatcher Demko has taken over for the Canucks between the pipes and has done a wonderful job. Demko has quickly established himself as one of the NHL’s brightest young talents at the position and put up incredible numbers even with the Canucks’ recurring defensive issues in front of him. In fact, it’s because of Demko that the Canucks tendency to bleed shots and scoring chances against has been somewhat manageable in years past.
However, in the first few games of this season, Demko has looked far from the superhuman goaltender that Canucks fans have come to expect. He’s been a below-average goalie and that’s made things extremely difficult for the Canucks as the plan in the past has often been to let Demko make up for numerous defensive mistakes.
“I think [Demko] stealing a lot of games for us over the past year, sometimes we need to give him a break and it’s about time we do that,” defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson told CanucksArmy. “We’ve got to play way better in front of him. It’s a team effort that we need and [we need it] for sixty minutes.”
Of course, that’s no way to win in the NHL and it’s hard to criticize Demko for not living up to the sky-high expectations that he’s set for himself. However, the truth is that with Demko putting up Alex Auld-type numbers for the moment, the Canucks are going to struggle to win games until he morphs back into “Bubble Demko”.

Demko’s early numbers

Of the 50 NHL goalies that have played at least 75 minutes this season, Demko ranks second last in Goals Saved Above Average in all situations according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Let’s make it clear, the defence has been doing him no favours as he’s faced the most shots against of any goalie and the second most high-danger shots against, but Demko is still playing far under his lofty standards.
With 24 goals against, Demko has been scored on more than any other goalie in the league to this point in the season. Compare that to the 17.11 expected goals against and it’s clear that we are far, far, far away from “Bubble Demko” performance at the moment.
Demko’s 4.06 GAA and .872 save percentage so far this season stick out like a sore thumb when compared to his career numbers. Granted, the sample size is small, but it goes to show how far below standard Demko has been performing.
Every goalie goes through tough stretches and Demko is due for some major positive regression very soon. Unfortunately, the Canucks are built in a way that makes winning very difficult without excellent goaltending and thus these cold spells reflect harshly on their record.

What the film says

So the numbers say that Demko has been pretty weak, but what does the film say? How many of the goals have really been Demko’s fault and how many have been him getting left out to dry by an AHL-caliber defence group?
With every goal, there are plenty of factors that go into why it was conceded. Especially when we’re talking about the 2022-23 Canucks, there are almost always multiple missed assignments before the puck ends up in the back of the net. Saying that, there have been a few goals this year that Demko definitely wishes he could have back.
This power play goal by Mats Zuccarello to tie the game against the Canucks in the third period is just one example. While the Canucks don’t do a good job at stopping Zuccarello from getting plenty of empty space right next to the goal, Demko also leaves a gap in an area he really should have covered.

Should the Canucks be worried about Demko’s slow start? 

Yes and no.
There’s no need to panic that these past few games are representative of Demko as a player. He’s proven over the past couple seasons that he’s one of the brightest up-and-coming goalies about to enter his prime and there’s no doubt that in two months this stretch will be seen as nothing but a small bump in the road. Demko is too talented not to turn things around.
On the other hand, the Canucks should be nervous that they can’t win a game without great goaltending. It’s a concerning issue that has put the team in a large hole to start the season, a hole that they will now need to spend the next few months digging themselves out of.
Overall, it’s a symptom of the larger issue where the Canucks struggle mightily when everything isn’t going to plan perfectly. The only thing that remains to be seen is how long it takes the franchise to truly address it and build an environment where Demko doesn’t need to show shades of Kirk McLean in 1994 every night just for this team to get a win.

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