Tuesday November 15 - Vancouver Canucks 5 - Buffalo Sabres 4
Friday November 18 - Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks - 7 p.m. - Sportsnet Pacific
The Vancouver Canucks closed out their road trip on a positive note, hanging on for two points and a 5-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Bo Horvat had a three-point night, picking up his 14th goal of the year and adding a pair of assists. And don't look now, but J.T. Miller is also into double digits in scoring, with his 10th goal of the season. It's not quite the 99-point pace, but 16 points in 17 games isn't really too far off.
Ethan Bear also scored his first goal as a Canuck, and Will Lockwood picked up his first NHL point when he picked up the second assist on Dakota Joshua's game-opening tally.
It was another win on the record of Spencer Martin, who's now 4-1-1 for the year — although his save percentage has also dipped below .900, to .898. But lower goalie numbers are part of a league-wide trend. In order for scoring to be up, goalie stats have to be down and so far this year, the league averages are .906 in save percentage and 2.96 in GAA, according to Hockey Reference
. Those numbers are both down slightly from last year, when the averages were .907 and 2.92. But this trend has been happening pretty steadily and consistently since the 2015-16 season, when the average save percentage in the league was .915 and the GAA was 2.51.
Goalie equipment is probably part of that equation. It was 2018 when goalies spoke out
about potential injury issues after new rules around their chest protectors came into place, but other parts of their uniforms had been getting tweaks for at least a dozen years before that. I'd be curious to see if we have seen more goalie injuries over the years. It certainly seems like more teams need to have at least three or four viable options in their system — but maybe it just comes to our attention more because of the salary-cap gymnastics that are required to call up a player in our current flat-cap world?
In today's environment, Martin's .898 save percentage and Thatcher Demko's .874 might not be as bad as you'd think at first. However — the Canucks' 4.06 goals allowed per game are still third-worst in the league. Only Columbus and Anaheim are giving up more. Martin's .898 ranks him 50th out of 73 goalies who have appeared in an NHL game this season — although he is tied with 2019 Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, whose name I didn't expect to see in the same vicinity. Demko sits in 68th place, but three of the five goalies below him are also starters whose cap hits match or exceed Demko's $5 million: Alex Nedeljkovic, Jack Campbell, Connor Ingram, Elvis Merzlikins and Philipp Grubauer.
It's incredible that Grubauer continues to struggle, even as the Seattle Kraken sit third in the Pacific Division. That's all about Martin Jones, who has played 13 of the Kraken's 16 games and is 7-4-2 with a .909 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA that's on par with the best seasons of his career.
One other interesting note from the Buffalo game: for just the second time this season, the Canucks did not surrender a goal while shorthanded. That snaps a streak of 12 games where the penalty kill gave up at least one goal — and two of Vancouver's penalties came in the late stages of the game, as they were trying to preserve the multi-goal lead that they had built.
Is this a sign that their luck is starting to shift? And if so, how does that affect the loud narratives we've been hearing from the national insiders, that Bruce Boudreau's days are numbered and that almost everything could be on the table, in terms of potential changes?
After a day off on Wednesday, the Canucks are back on the ice at Rogers Arena on Thursday, prepping for a tough two-game homestand that will see the Los Angeles Kings come into town on Friday night, followed by the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.
The Kings have played more games than any other team in the Pacific Division, but their .605 points percentage verifies that their second-place position is justified. L.A. is 11-7-1 this season, including 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, and followed up a 6-5 road loss in Calgary on Monday night with a 3-1 win over Edmonton on Wednesday.
And the Kings are having success with a pair of goaltenders whose save percentages are very similar to Vancouver's: Cal Petersen got the win in Edmonton and is 5-2-0 for the year, but his save percentage is .878. Jonathan Quick is 6-5-1 and sits at .895. The Kings do allow about 10% fewer shots per game: 29.6, compared to 32.9 for Vancouver — significant, but not an enormous difference. But somehow, that works out to about 7/10ths of a goal less per game. Vancouver's at 4.06 goals allowed, on average, and L.A. is at 3.37.
The Kings' special teams are nothing to write home about, either. While Vancouver's power play is an impressive 29.5%, the Kings are at just 19.5%. And their penalty killing percentage of 75% is certainly better than Vancouver's 63.8%, but still not great. One measure of special-teams success is to add power-play and penalty-killing percentages together: if the total is more than 100, the team is doing all right. Neither of these numbers meets that threshold: Vancouver is at 93.3 and L.A. is 94.5.
Los Angeles has had a bit of an odd season so far, with plenty of high-scoring games mixed in with those 2-1 type affairs that they're generally known for. Now, they have enough firepower to win many of those goalfests. Offseason trade acquisition Kevin Fiala has made a difference, leading the team with 18 points. Gabriel Vilardi is having a breakout year and is now up to 10 goals. And Trevor Moore's hat trick in Edmonton on Wednesday bumped him up to 15 points for the season, tied with Vilardi for second place on the team's scoring race.
Also, a word of defence for our boy Alex Edler, who was vilified on Wednesday night after getting tangled up with Connor McDavid — and called out by Zach Hyman, still bitter about having been injured by Edler a couple of years back.
I think Brendan Batchelor explains this situation very well:
Also from Batch — Thursday's practice lines:
We have a Curtis Lazar sighting! And we've also got Vasily Podkolzin in the mix, after he missed Tuesday's game in Buffalo following his fight in Boston on Sunday.
After being scratched in three of the last four games, it also looks like Riley Stillman is set to draw back in on Friday night.