Struggling to score, Canucks fall to 0-3-0 after matinee loss to the Canes
Saturday, January 15: Carolina Hurricanes 4 - Vancouver Canucks 1
Sunday, January 16: Vancouver Canucks at Washington Capitals - 10 a.m. PT
Bruce Boudreau's hope for a .500 road trip is now officially out the window.
The Vancouver Canucks dropped their third straight game on Saturday, with a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Bo Horvat had the only goal for Vancouver — the first tally of the trip for any player from Vancouver's top six. And Thatcher Demko was unexpectedly pressed into service in net after Jaroslav Halak was placed on the Covid protocol list on Saturday morning.
Now — a big question for Bruce Boudreau. Will Spencer Martin, freshly recalled from the taxi squad, make his Canucks debut on Sunday against Washington? Or will the coach go back to Demko again, for a fourth start in six days?
I'd lean toward giving Martin a shot. But Boudreau hasn't ruled out going back to Demko.
If Martin plays, Demko gets some proper rest and should be at his best for Tuesday's game in Nashville. And for whatever it's worth, we've seen depth goalies have some unexpectedly good outings when called upon this season.
On Friday night, 22-year-old Ivan Prosvetov got the Arizona Coyotes to a shootout against the Colorado Avalanche in his fifth career NHL game. Last week, 21-year-old Lukas Dostal made 33 saves in his NHL debut, as the Anaheim Ducks beat the Detroit Red Wings in a shootout.
And earlier this season, the Washington Capitals got an unexpected shutout from 26-year-old Zach Fucale in his NHL debut, a 2-0 win over Detroit.
Spencer Martin's career arc looks a bit like Fucale's. A native of Oakville, he's also 26, and was originally drafted in the third round by Colorado back in 2013. He got into three NHL games with the Avalanche during the 2016-17 season, going 0-2-1, but has spent the rest of his time toiling in the minors.
He was in the Tampa Bay organization for two seasons before being traded to the Canucks for future considerations last summer, and did spend some time on the taxi squad last season. Like Luke Schenn, he also picked up his Stanley Cup ring when the Canucks visited the Lightning earlier this week.
With Abbotsford this season, Martin has established himself as the best of the Baby Canucks' three goaltenders. His record is 5-0-2 on a team that's 11-11-3, with a .921 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average.
Give him a shot, I say!
Though the Canucks are now in the toughest part of their tough road trip, at least Washington is also on a back-to-back, with travel, and actually with one fewer hour of rest.
Alex Ovechkin is dealing with a nagging injury, but snapped his season-high four-game goalless drought with an empty-netter as the Capitals shut out the New York Islanders 2-0 at UBS Arena on Saturday.
Nicklas Backstrom is finally back with Washington, but T.J. Oshie left Saturday's game after being injured in the first period. The Caps are also missing Conor Sheary, Carl Hagelin and Dmitry Orlov — all in Covid protocol.
A middling 4-3-3 in their last 10 games, the Caps still have 51 points on the year, but are in a bit of a valley right now. They might be the one team the Canucks will face on this trip that is not red hot.
With Vitek Vanecek getting the shutout against the Islanders on Sunday, the Canucks should see Ilya Samsonov in net, and he has been struggling of late. He's 2-2-2 in his last six starts, and gave up four goals in each of his last two games — a 5-1 loss to St. Louis and a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey.
While Martin is up with the big club, Mikey DiPietro and Arturs Silovs will carry the load for Abbotsford. DiPietro made 23 saves on Friday night as the Canucks knocked off the San Diego Gulls on the road, by a score of 5-1.
With the win, DiPietro's record improves to 4-7-2 for the year, with a .896 save percentage and 3.19 goals-against average.
If you want to get a look at the Abbotsford squad and haven't signed up for the AHL streaming package, Saturday is your lucky day. AHL TV is free to stream all day, and the Canucks are set for a rematch with the Gulls at 7 p.m. PT — presumably with Silovs getting his turn in net.
As far as the tale of the tape through the road trip so far — it's not as bad as it could have been, but certainly not good enough to make those playoff hopes remain very plausible. No massive blowouts or — knock on wood — injuries, but not much reason for optimism after getting outscored 13-5, cumulatively, with a power play that has gone 0-for-12 and one goal allowed in each game by the penalty kill.
And yes — the Canucks are still last in the league in penalty killing, at 68.8% for the year. But that metric has improved dramatically since Boudreau arrived — an 85.1% success rate since Dec. 5 that is eighth-best in the league during that stretch. It's not far off Carolina's league-best 90.5% rate, either, but shield your eyes when you look at what the Hurricanes have done on the kill since Dec. 5. Their success rate is 97.1% — one power-play goal allowed to Winnipeg on Dec. 7, then 11 perfect games since then.
When you've killed 35 consecutive penalties, you can afford to take some physical liberties that make it tough on your opponent. I thought Carolina was very feisty against Vancouver.
And while I've been trying to wait patiently for Elias Pettersson to snap out of his funk, his struggles today were glaring, weren't they?
As his team continues to struggle, Boudreau has been juggling his combinations. He even gave the Lotto Line a brief twirl today — although Natural Stat Trick reports that the trio gave up three shot attempts to Carolina in their 1:19 together, while generating nothing themselves. Small sample size, sure, but that doesn't exactly raise a call to keep them together going forward.
A bit tricky to talk about standings in the middle of a busy Saturday, with lots of games still on the docket. The short version: San Jose sits in the second-wild card spot in the West heading into the evening's action, six points up on Vancouver. But the Sharks and two of the four teams immediately behind them, Edmonton and Dallas, are all in action on Saturday night.
So is Chicago — riding a three-game winning streak and now just two points behind the Canucks. The road ahead certainly isn't looking any smoother.