Why Thatcher Demko is Canucks’ best hope to topple Maple Leafs

Why Thatcher Demko is Canucks’ best hope to topple Maple Leafs

VANCOUVER – Were this a regular 82-game NHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be on pace for 130 points. The Vancouver Canucks would be headed toward 63.

Yes, the Maple Leafs would actually lap the Canucks, more than doubling their success rate.

With a two-game series in Vancouver set to start Thursday night, the Maple Leafs have nine road wins already. The Canucks have nine wins in total.

There are only two statistical categories in which the Canucks match the Maple Leafs: face-off percentage and penalty-killing. But since it’s mathematically impossible that both teams can play 60 minutes at four-against-five, the Canucks’ best hope to win is that goalie Thatcher Demko might steal them a game.

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In a season with so little brightness so far for the Canucks, Demko has been shining since his first three starts, building a .920 save percentage since Jan. 21 despite a seven-goal ventilation in Toronto one month ago.

In his last four starts, Demko has posted a .941 save rate and looked a lot like the goalie who brilliantly parachuted into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last summer and almost single-handedly carried the Canucks past the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference semifinal.

But unlike in September, Demko hasn’t yet been good enough this season to steal a win when the Canucks have been outplayed.

Stealing games is not merely a bonus but a periodic requirement for an NHL starter, which Demko, 25, is learning to be after backing up former Canuck Jacob Markstrom last season.

Canucks coach Travis Green said transitioning to starter from backup is always challenging at the NHL level.

“I think part of it is the market that you play in as well,” Green said after Monday’s morning skate at Rogers Arena. “Being a starting goalie in a Canadian market is probably a little bit different than other places. There’s more scrutiny, more eyes. You know, more media. But the pressure on any NHL team is higher than at lower levels.

“These are very ultra-competitive players. Goalies are usually the same way, except maybe even a higher competitive level mentally. There always is a little bit of time (required)… when a younger goalie is transitioning into a starting role. I feel like I probably had the same discussion a lot in the past about Marky when he was in that transition period. That’s just part of the evolution of probably any goalie, but maybe a little more magnified in the Canadian market.”

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Green was criticized Tuesday for starting veteran backup Braden Holtby, who has been badly outplayed since January, in Winnipeg one night after Demko shut out the Jets 4-0. Neither Holtby nor the team in front of him was good enough in the 5-2 loss.

Canucks Twitter was ready to erupt again Thursday morning when Holtby practised in the “home” goal, but Demko left the ice first and Green confirmed he would start.

But the coach offered no clarity on any other players, including star centre Elias Pettersson, who skated with the team but left the ice before special-teams work. Winger Jake Virtanen looks again like he will be a healthy scratch.

Even with a full team, the Canucks look overmatched against the Leafs, who swept its three-game series against Vancouver in early February by a combined score of 15-5.

Toronto just swept three games from Edmonton Oilers, embarrassing Connor McDavid’s team 13-1 while using three different goalies. That beatdown was noteworthy in Vancouver because the Oilers last week looked extremely impressive while winning 3-0 and 4-3 against the Canucks.

“This is a team that’s kind of been on the cusp of doing some really good things in the league for a while,” Green said. “They’ve been through some wars and battles. They’ve lost some tough (playoff) series. You learn things along the way. I’m sure they are, too. You can see in their game they’re playing strong defensive hockey. But they’re also a highly skilled team that has the puck a lot, which always helps your defensive game. And, you know, you don’t have to look any further than their record and their lineup (to see) they’re a good team.”

The best in the NHL so far. The Canucks, not so much.


J.T. Miller-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser

Tanner Pearson-Bo Horvat-Nils Hoglander

Loui Eriksson-Brandon Sutter-Adam Gaudette

Antoine Roussel-Jay Beagle-Jayce Hawryluk

Alex Edler-Nate Schmidt

Quinn Hughes-Travis Hamonic

Jordie Benn-Tyler Myers

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