“The goalie stole the game” is sometimes conveniently over-used, but definitely not on February 12th at Rogers Arena when the Vancouver Canucks beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2. Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko committed grand larceny in stopping 51 of 53 shots and an endless parade of Grade-A chances. Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t happy but appreciated Demko’s performance.
“Hats off to their goalie,” Keefe stated postgame. “He’s been unbelievable all season for them. That is part of the story in the game. The bigger part is that you can’t give them the lead. To me, we should’ve won the game 2-1.”
The Maple Leafs will be motivated by a little revenge and also by the fact that this past Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena in front of their first full-sized, non-Covid-limited crowd of the season, they were booed off the ice by the home folks in a 5-1 loss to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Fair to say the Canucks expect the Leafs to bounce back a bit.
“The one game I saw them live, I mean they come at you in waves,” Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said after morning skate in Toronto. “They had over fifty shots, the way they can move the puck, and the talent they have up front. (D-man) Morgan Rielly had a special night that night, I’ve seen him do that against my team an awful lot, so it’s a normal night I think. So you better be prepared to defend.
“Hopefully you can play the game so that they don’t have possession of the puck as much as they normally do, and you hope your goalie is outstanding, because they’re gonna get some Grade-A chances, their skill is just too good.”
Rielly played a team-high 26:26 with eight shots on goal and three hits against the Vancouver Canucks in the game last month. Demko held him pointless.
“Thatcher, he gives you belief, there’s no doubt,” Boudreau added. “He had those three shut-outs I think in those playoffs in the bubble (2020), he was just coming up from Utica at that point and you’re thinking ‘OK, here’s a young guy and he’s having a night’, but ever since I’ve been here, he’s been outstanding. When he’s normal, you go ‘Oh, what’s wrong with him’, but for the most nights he’s been incredibly good.”
Adding to the Canucks concerns is the Leafs raging power play, clicking at 29%, tops in the NHL by a whopping 2.5 percentage points. The penalty kill isn’t too shabby either, sixth in the league at 84.2%. Vancouver checks in at an improved and respectable 20.6% with the man advantage, but still struggles with consistency on an NHL-worst penalty kill at 70.4%.
Tonight’s game wraps up a productive east coast road trip for the Canucks thus far, a 2-and-1 record with wins over the New York Rangers and Islanders sandwiched around a loss to the New Jersey Devils. The Vancouver Canucks fly home tonight after the game and will begin a seven-game home stand on Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens.
Note: Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds, a native of Scarborough, Ontario, part of the Greater Toronto Area, plays in his 1,000th NHL game on Saturday night.