Travis Green talks about Demko's deployment as Canucks face the Leafs
From the "hindsight is 20:20" department: Maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad idea to go back to Thatcher Demko on Tuesday in Winnipeg?
It might not have mattered; the Canucks got more puck luck during Demko's shutout on Monday night than I think they've seen all season. But the team went into Winnipeg after three days off, their longest rest so far this year. And only road rink where they've had any meaningful success this year is Bell MTS Centre, where they were 2-0 before Tuesday's 5-2 loss.
But Travis Green called the decision to go with Braden Holtby on Tuesday a "no-brainer" when he spoke with the media ahead of Thursday night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition to the back-to-back consideration, he cited the upcoming schedule — four games every second night to start this homestand, against tough competition in Toronto and Montreal.
He also acknowledged that he didn't want to overload Demko as he makes the transition into the starting role.
"He hasn't had a huge workload in his career," Green said. "We're trying to make sure that he's on top of his game every time he plays, as well.
"I feel like I probably had the same discussion a lot in the past about Marky, earlier on when he was in that transition period," Green added. "That's just part of the evolution of, probably any goalie, but maybe a little more magnified in a Canadian market."
Demko is getting the start on Thursday, as the Canucks look to get their first win of the year against a Maple Leafs team that just made short work of Edmonton's self-confidence as they outscored the Oilers by a collective total of 13-1 over three road games at Rogers Place.
Toronto was shorthanded for the first part of that series, too. After missing the first two games with a wrist injury, Auston Matthews returned on Wednesday with seven shots on goal, but was held off the score sheet for just the third time this year.
And Freddy Andersen made 26 saves in his return to the Leafs net after missing four games with a lower-body injury.
Since the Leafs are on a back-to-back themselves now, with travel, it would seem unlikely that Sheldon Keefe would go back to Andersen against the Canucks. But as of Thursday morning, Keefe is keeping his cards close to his chest.
Jack Campbell got the shutout in Game 1 of the Oilers series last Saturday, but has been sidelined for the last two games with a lower-body injury. Michael Hutchinson stepped in on Monday and made 31 saves for his first shutout of the year. The 31-year-old has now played in four of Toronto's last seven games and is boasting a 3-1-0 record with a .943 save percentage and 1.77 goals-against average. Those are even better than Laurent Brossoit numbers!
Since the Leafs outscored the Canucks 15-5 in their three wins at Scotiabank Arena a month ago, they've continued to roll. Their overall record since the last time they played Vancouver is 8-2-1. Perhaps most impressively, they're now 9-1-1 on the road this season — and that's without the boost they usually get from their fans across the country when they play in Canadian markets.
As we approach the halfway point of this shortened season, the Leafs do seem like they're finally firing on all cylinders — and able to handle themselves when injuries or adversity arise. But we've still got a ways to go, and this group can't fully exorcise the franchise's demons until it wins at least one playoff round.
A couple of other Canucks notes from Thursday's morning skate.
First, it looks like Green is doing some tinkering with his bottom six:
Also, Elias Pettersson reportedly left early.
Green did not provide any lineup updates other than saying that Demko will start, so Pettersson's situation is certainly one to watch as we get closer to gametime.
Meanwhile, down on the farm...the Utica Comets dropped a 4-2 decision to the Rochester Americans in their only game of the week on Wednesday.
Jonah Gadjovich opened the scoring with his seventh of the year less than a minute into the game, but the Comets gave up three goals to Rochester before Jack Rathbone connected with his first professional goal on a third period five-on-three. And it was a beauty!
Rough night defensively for Sven Baertschi, who finished as a minus-four — even on for the late Rochester empty-netter. It's not part of a trend, though — he's now minus-four for the year.
And Will Lockwood was feelin' it. His initial shot let to Gadjovich's goal, and he added six more as the game went on to lead all Comets players. That's also out of character: Lockwood now has 12 shots in eight games this year. He's still looking for his first professional goal.