Quarter-Mark Thanks: The 2021-22 Canucks Goaltenders So Far

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One strength has never left the Vancouver Canucks, even as their seasons declined this decade. Even as the team collapsed from their 2020-11 high, the men between the pipes always stood tall. Let’s take a look at how the 2021-22 Canucks goaltenders are holding up.

2021-22 Canucks Goaltenders

Strength to Strength to Oops

Cory Schneider. Roberto Luongo. Ryan Miller. Eddie Lack. Jacob Markstrom. And now Thatcher Demko. All have played great hockey for the Canucks since 2010-11. And one question is highlighted in this year’s nightmare start:

NHL free agent frenzy

What if they didn’t?

It’s not hard to imagine the hypothetical of a Canucks team not picking up Ryan Miller in 2014-15. He boosted the team to its last 100-point season before that “dead cat bounce” plummeted them back into the doldrums of the previous year. What if they went with Lack and a completely unprepared Markstrom? What if – hear us out now – a rebuild actually happened?

Now, normally that would mean higher draft picks and the like. But frankly is hard to imagine the team doing much better there between 2015 and 2019. Olli Juolevi was a hard-luck selection, sure, but the others went pretty well. They might not have selected better, but they would have selected more often. When a rebuild is underway, teams start looking for those magic beans instead of spending them.

So why are we mentioning this instead of discussing the 2021-22 Canucks goaltenders? Well, it’s certainly not because their luck has run out.

When You Spring Them Too Tight

Whether it’s a deliberate strategy or not, the Canucks have tended to abandon their goaltenders of late. Long stretch passes to already-streaking forwards makes for exciting hockey to watch, certainly. If only because it doesn’t always work. But when it doesn’t work, it is extremely easy to be outnumbered. It’s high-risk, high-reward play, but the need is there for high-skill defence to pull that off. And this year, they just don’t have it.

Goaltending is hard enough in a system like that when the defence is up to snuff. It’s very easy to find loads of clips with Miller or Luongo staring down yet another breakaway. They make the stop and a defender flicks the puck up the ice and back they go. Demko manages step one fine, but only some of Vancouver’s defence can pull off the second half. As a result, coach Travis Green has changed tactics, and it’s not been great.

But if it was just the 5-on-5 play, that would be survivable. Demko is the primary of the 2021-22 Canucks goaltenders, and he hasn’t been saving the world. He did pretty much last year, but this time out he’s been about average. At even strength, he’s saved three more goals than expected, which is a touch above average for goalies with ten or more games. Given the porous defence, that’s as good as can be hoped for, really. If the offence had held up they’d be close to a playoff spot – or at least in competition for it.

One glaring issue has been the penalty kill.

The Weak Point(s)

Stop us if you’d heard this one before, but the Canucks have a legendarily low penalty-kill percentage. As in the New Jersey Devils had the worst penalty kill of the 21st century last year at 71% even. The Canucks last had a penalty kill anything close to that in 1984-85 at a league-worst 70.5%. So far this season – as of November 27th – they are at a 65.2% penalty kill. That level of failure is simply astounding. The Arizona Coyotes are 4% higher right now. The team went through one of the most bizarre streaks ever when they played six consecutive games where the first goal scored – by either team – was a power-play goal against the Canucks. How is that even possible?

It’s the sort of number you look at and wonder if it was somehow deliberate. Some vicious prank. But no. Tyler Myers leads the team in short-handed ice time, where before it was Alex Edler or Chris Tanev. Despite the instinctive reaction to think of big defencemen as being inherently good in their own end, he just isn’t. At least it’s a good excuse to be leading the team in blocked shots. but man. It’s not that the penalty kill is his fault, but that the team is relying on him to lead them on it. It’s a job he’s not really built for, but teams need two defenders at a time out there.

The biggest problem with the kill isn’t even the defence. We mentioned it before, but the forwards who anchored it in previous seasons aren’t there. Tyler Motte has returned, but Brandon Sutter is still out. It reached the point that Justin Bailey was getting time there before his return to Abbotsford. It feels like an astoundingly unorganized foursome who have no trust in each other, and the results are evident. Loads of cross-ice passes pulling the goaltenders from side-to-side, gaps in coverage in front, inability to recognize when plays are forming. Sure, the classic line is “sometimes you need a save” but that’s A save, not SEVEN saves.

At The Other End Of Their Rope

Let’s talk about the other one of the 2021-22 Canucks goaltenders, Jaroslav Halak. He’s has been fine. He was hired as a backup and has started just four games in their first 21. When the other option is Demko, that’s a positive. No one expects him to be a saviour for the season, just to play well enough to get wins. And he’s done that – at least for a couple wins. But it’s the nature of an unfair position that his play has been nearly irrelevant, as his record sits at 0-3-1. He’s played well enough to get a couple of wins, but the team in front of him hasn’t.

In each of his four starts, the Canucks have scored exactly one goal while Halak was on the ice. They have been a 3-1 loss; a 2-1 loss; a 3-2 overtime loss where Halak was pulled for the tying goal; and a 5-1 loss. Even the 7-1 beating by the Colorado Avalanche saw Halak come in for the third period – which is when the Canucks scored their lone goal. That’s one goal per game while Halak is on the ice. No more, no less. It’s hard to get wins like that. Not that Demko is getting much more support, as Vancouver is currently 28th in the league scoring.

The state of the 2021-22 Canucks goaltending is, well, much like it’s always been this decade. It’s been good. But if they’re gonna be relied on to save the team, the team has to meet them halfway.

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