Honestly, give the Vancouver Canucks some credit. It has to tough to win in Florida. The Tampa Bay Lightning have been playing absolutely great hockey for a couple of weeks now and moving up the standings. The Florida Panthers haven’t been playing as well, but they aren’t a bad team either.
Plus, the hockey gods don’t seem to like long winning streaks. Sooner or later there’s always a letdown. And, that seems to be exactly what the Canucks have experienced in the first two games of the team’s current road trip.
In this post, I want to focus on the goalie play during the team’s two-game trip to the Sunshine State. In a word, it wasn’t stellar.
Game One in Florida: The Lightning Overwhelm the Canucks 9-2
Jacob Markstrom got the start against the Lightning. Over the past few weeks, it’s truthful to say that Markstrom’s won-loss record says he was hot, however his play had sometimes been less strong than his six-game winning streak might suggest. Since the beginning of December, Markstrom’s record was 7-6-0, and he’d posted a goals-against-average of 2.99 and .915 save percentage. Still, in his last six games, the tall Swede had picked up six wins in a row and, during that time, had posted a strong .932 save percentage.
Markstrom kept the Lightning off the scoreboard for the entire first period, but the second period was a nightmare. It became clear early that the Lightning – who themselves had come into the game with a seven-game winning streak – was playing for keeps on their home ice and the 29-year-old Markstrom’s shot at his 16th victory of the season would have to wait for another night.
The game turned brutal quickly. After Markstrom gave up six goals on 21 shots, he was mercifully replaced by Thatcher Demko late in the second period. In fact, the Lightning had scored three times in less than a minute – I can’t recall that happening ever in a game I’ve watched.
When Demko entered the game, either he too was shaky in relief or the game was destined to be Tampa Bay’s game from the get-go. Demko simply couldn’t stop Tampa Bay’s momentum and gave up three goals in only 16 shots after replacing Markstrom. It was only Demko’s second game since December 10 because he’d missed games because he’d had a concussion.
In this game, neither Canucks goalie was up to the test.
Game Two in Florida: The Panthers Take It to the Canucks 5-2
During the second game in Florida, the Canucks faced a Panthers team that had been up and down. However, they were far from down on this night. Demko got the start.
Forgetting his shaky backup experience in the disaster two nights earlier against the Lightning, Demko was solid in his December 29th start against the Calgary Flames and had only allowed two goals in 25 shots as the Canucks skated to an easy 5-2 victory.
In this game, the 24-year-old Demko was looking for his ninth win of the season. No chance. The Panthers’ simply overwhelmed the Canucks, throwing almost 50 shots at the beleaguered goalie from all over the ice and the young Demkos had to fight hard all night. He stopped 44 of the 49 shots he saw. It might have been worse, actually.
Although this loss wasn’t all Demko’s fault, during the two-game Florida road trip the Canucks had surrendered 14 goals and he’d given up eight of them. This Florida trip had halted Demko’s three-game winning streak just as it had halted Markstrom’s six-game winning streak.
What’s Next with the Canucks?
The Canucks’ road trip is far from over. They play the Buffalo Sabres in a Saturday-afternoon game on January 11; then, they fly into Minnesota for an early-evening back-to-back game against the Wild. Finally, they finish their trip on January 14 in Winnipeg against the Jets.
If the team is going to retain its position in the playoff race, the goalies have to bounce back during the team’s next three games. Good luck to the team: the Canucks have the players and the resiliency to bounce back. They should come out with attitude against the Sabres in a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. Head coach Travis Green wouldn’t have it otherwise.