What would this Canucks season look like if they just had average goaltending?

Photo credit:© James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Noah Strang
1 year ago
Heading into the 2022-23 NHL season, the Vancouver Canucks’ goalies were seen as one of the team’s strengths. Thatcher Demko had established himself as a young star, consistently smoothing over defensive mistakes and stealing games. Backup Spencer Martin was coming off an encouraging first season with the team and was primed to take the step into a full-time NHL role.
To everyone’s surprise, the Canucks’ goaltending has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses this season. Three different netminders have played, and not a single one has managed to put up even average stats. Thatcher Demko, Spencer Martin, and Collin Delia have all struggled at different points.
After being treated to Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller, and Jacob Markstrom over the last decade and a half, this has been the first year in a while where Canucks fans have had to suffer through painful goaltending.
The poor goaltending was a big contributor to the Canucks’ weak start to the season. Failing to win a single one of their first seven games left the Canucks in a hole too big to crawl out of. While there’s enough blame to go around for everyone, the goaltending deserves to be signalled out as especially bad, especially compared to what it was expected to be.
If the Canucks had gotten just average goaltending from the start of the season — which shouldn’t be a big ask considering Demko’s past performance — where would they be right now? They’d be higher in the standings for sure, but would it have been enough to propel them to a playoff position?

How have the Canucks’ goalies compared this season? 

In 2021-22, out of the 55 NHL goalies that played at least 1000 minutes at 5-on-5, Thatcher Demko ranked third in goals saved above average behind only Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shesterkin. While Martin only managed to play ~300 5-on-5 minutes, he was tops among NHL goalies with at least 250 minutes.
This year is a very different story. There are 67 NHL goalies that have played at least 500 minutes of 5-on-5 this season, including Demko, Martin, and Collin Delia. All three Canucks goalies have a negative goals saved above average per sixty minutes. Both Martin and Delia are in the bottom-five league wide.
The stats on the penalty kill have been even worse than at 5-on-5. There’s an old hockey saying that you’re goalie has to be your best penalty killer and that has not been the case for the Canucks this season. Between all the 65 NHL goalies with at least 50 minutes on the penalty kill, the three Canucks players rank in the 63rd, 64th, and 65th as they occupy the bottom three spots in save percentage.

Where would the Canucks place with average goaltending? 

The Canucks have allowed a total of 170.96 expected goals against so far this year. That encompasses all situations. However, they’ve allowed a total of 217 actual goals, a terrible reflection of poor goaltending and defence. That’s a difference of about 46 goals (with some slight rounding) that they’ve allowed over expected.
A big part of the reason behind that discrepancy has been the Canucks goalies low-danger save percentage. When facing shots that are considered to be low-danger, they’re making saves just 93.92%, the worst mark in the league.
If the Canucks had exactly 171 goals allowed as expected, they’d have a goal differential of +10 as they have 181 goals for. Those numbers would look very similar to Seattle, who currently has 187 goals for and 170 goals against along with a 30-18-6 record.
The Canucks currently rank 12th in the Western Conference by goal differential, which is the exact same position they rank by raw point total. If they had average goaltending and a goal differential of +10, that would likely rank seventh best in the conference.
This is all just a fun thought exercise and not meant to suggest that the Canucks should be sitting in a playoff spot. However, it does make you think that even with average goaltending, a bar that Demko has easily surpassed in the past, the Canucks would be sitting in a much nicer position.

Who to blame: the goaltending or the defence? 

The Canucks goalies were excellent last season and routinely bailed the team out. The numbers suggest that both Demko and Martin played well above average and the team’s goaltending could be considered elite. This season, that has not been the case.
Last year, the Canucks overall team defence was average, allowing 2.51 expected goals against per sixty minutes at 5-on-5, good for 18th in the league. When it comes to actual goals, the team fared much better in large part due to the goalies, as they allowed just 2.14 goals against per sixty 5-on-5 minutes, second best in the NHL.
This season, the Canucks are allowing 2.78 expected goals against per sixty minutes, putting them in 24th place league-wide. While this is a drop-off from last year, it’s not as significant as the fall in actual goals allowed. The Canucks are allowing 3.21 goals against per sixty, ranking 30th in the NHL.
The goalies are the reason for this negative progression. The Canucks rank dead last in the NHL this season in 5-on-5 save percentage compared to finishing first last season.
Canucks defence and goaltending stats (NaturalStatTrick)
Thus while the Canucks have made things a bit tougher for their goalies this season, the netminders’ performance has fallen off a cliff. While the goaltenders deserve a ton of praise for the 2021-22 season, they also can be fairly criticized for this season. They made the Canucks team defence seem much stronger than it was in reality last year and they’ve done the opposite this season.

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