Heading into this game, the New York Islanders were averaging just 29.4 shots per game, the third-fewest in the NHL.
Against the Canucks on Tuesday night, the Islanders racked up a season-high 49 shots on goal, desperate to pick up a win and stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Unfortunately for the Islanders, their season-high in shots was met by a career-high in saves from Thatcher Demko.
While he needed some run support from the skaters in front of him, Demko absolutely stole this game for the Canucks, making 45 saves. Many of those saves were absolute robbery, repeatedly stealing what seemed to be sure goals away from the visiting team.
Demko appeared to have it out for Mathew Barzal in particular. Barzal had a game-high seven shots, but didn’t score a single goal. Demko stymied him time after time in all three periods in regulation, then once more in overtime. Then, to really rub it in, Demko stopped him for an eighth time in the shootout.
It was exactly the type of goaltending performance the Canucks needed to bust them out of their current slump. Now they just need phenomenal goaltending every single game so they don’t immediately fall into another slump. Either that or they could improve their defensive efforts, but let’s not get crazy here.
I didn’t get crazy when I watched this game.
- Loui Eriksson was a healthy scratch for this game, but I’m not sure the team giving up 49 shots in his absence will disabuse Travis Green of the notion that he needs Eriksson’s steady (and boring) defensive game in the Canucks’ lineup. The only Canuck that has been on the ice for a lower rate of scoring chances against than Eriksson is Brock Boeser.
- Speaking of, Boeser made his return to the lineup and looked good. I mean, he always looks good — it’s the hair — but he also played some solid hockey, finishing the game with three shots on goal in 17:17 in ice time. He wasn’t perfect and there were a couple moments where his timing looked a little off and he was a second slow to a loose puck or board battle, but it’s a positive sign that he looked so comfortable so quickly.
- One of those sluggish moments came on his first shift, when he reached with his stick along the boards instead of engaging in a puck battle. That led to an extended possession in the offensive zone for the Islanders. When Tanner Pearson gave the puck away on a bad pass to Boeser, the Islanders took advantage: Andrew Ladd tipped in Josh Bailey’s point shot to open the scoring.
- Boeser and Pearson deserve a bit of flak on the goal, but Oscar Fantenberg didn’t look great either, standing back and watching instead of trying to tie up Ladd’s stick in front. It was a tough night for Fantenberg: like Hera in The Adjuster, he mostly just watched terrible things happen in front of him, while doing very little about it.
- The Canucks responded 21 seconds later, with the energy line of Antoine Roussel, Adam Gaudette and Zack MacEwen going to work in the offensive zone. Roussel chased down a loose puck behind the net, and then banked the puck back to Troy Stecher at the point, who relayed it to Alex Edler. His point shot was neatly tipped past Semyon Varlamov by Gaudette, with Roussel simultaneously crashing the crease.
- Less than a minute later, the Canucks took the lead. Quinn Hughes jumped up in the rush to create a three on two, giving the puck to Elias Pettersson for the zone entry. He found Tyler Toffoli cross-ice with a lovely saucer pass that evaded three Islanders’ sticks before finding Toffoli’s perfectly. A pass that perfect deserved a perfect finish and Toffoli delivered, roofing the puck over Varlamov’s glove.
- A pair of penalties put the Canucks down by two men, which is when Thatcher Demko went off. He was remarkable on the five on three, making a series of fantastic saves; none better than his lunging right pad save on Barzal while in the splits. His legs were splayed out like a banana peel to make that save.
- After the successful kill, the Canucks swarmed the Islanders like a cloud of flies, buzzing all around the net, with the first and second lines combining for a long offensive zone possession and a drawn penalty. But it was the Islanders that got the next goal, taking advantage of a defensive breakdown by Jake Virtanen and Brandon Sutter.
- The Canucks were in good shape on the 2-2 goal, matched up man-on-man on an Islanders rush, but then Virtanen got caught puck watching and his man slipped in behind him. That left Sutter with a choice: stick with his man or take Virtanen’s. He ended up in no man’s land, taking neither. Virtanen’s man was Jordan Eberle, and Barzal slipped a sneaky pass through to him and Eberle had plenty of room to deke to the backhand and beat Demko.
- The energy line got the Canucks back in the lead with another tip-in goal. It seemed to come out of nowhere, created ex nihilo. Edler blocked a ring-around along the boards and threw the puck towards the net. Like Al Jackson Jr., MacEwen had perfect timing, darting in front of the net just as Edler shot, tipping the puck past Varlamov.
- Demko robbed Barzal off the rush not long after, with a picture-perfect slide to his left. It wasn’t a desperation save, but he pushed across hard, got his pad level with the ice with his glove open above his pad, with everything aligned just right to steal a goal away from Barzal. He was pulling out bigger stops than an organist playing the Wanamaker Organ.
- Unfortunately, the skaters in front of Demko weren’t making as many stops. Oscar Fantenberg got caught puck-watching as he expected the play to get blown dead for a hand pass. Instead, Brock Nelson, who originally played the puck with his hand, skated behind Fantenberg and onto the loose puck, negating the hand pass, and then negating the Canucks’ lead with a nifty backhand to make it 3-3.
- The Canucks regained the lead before the end of the second with a perfectly-executed power play. Quinn Hughes walked the line, opening up J.T. Miller on the left side. Miller faked a slap shot, freezing defenceman Scott Mayfield, who was defending Bo Horvat in the slot. Miller sent the puck down to Toffoli below the goal line and he one-touched it to Horvat, who sent the puck up stairs without any dinner for his team-leading 12th power play goal of the season.
- The one-goal lead didn’t last, as the Canucks continued to bleed shots against. The sheer number of shots they allowed increased the probability of a lucky bounce for the Islanders and they got one as a third period power play expired. Derrick Brassard’s shot was tipped and went up off the chest of Anthony Beauvillier to Brock Nelson at the side of the net for the tap-in goal.
- The Canucks rang some posts after Nelson’s goal, but couldn’t get the game-winner in either the third period or overtime. In the shootout, Demko continued his dominance, shutting out the three Islanders shooters. At the other end, Miller came through with a glove-side finish while moving from left to right, the only goal scored in the shootout.
- There was an oddity: with Boeser shooting for the win in his return to the lineup, his shootout attempt was cut short by a fan throwing a puck onto the ice. The refs blew the play dead and Boeser got to shoot again, but it was like icing the kicker. Would Boeser have scored on that initial attempt? Maybe. Maybe not. But he didn’t on the second attempt, so we’re free to speculate that the thrown puck also threw off his concentration.
- The win puts the Canucks back in playoff position, but precariously so. They’re now in the second wild card spot, tied in points with the Nashville Predators ahead of them and the Winnipeg Jets behind them, with the Minnesota Wild just one point back.