Usually, when a 19-year-old goalie fresh out of the Ontario Hockey League is forced to make an emergency NHL start, you’d think the team in front of him would do everything in their power to batten down the hatches and play as much defense as possible.
On Monday night, the Vancouver Canucks thought otherwise.
This was not an ideal situation for anyone involved, and it showed Jim Benning’s shortsightedness as a general manager.
With Thatcher Demko down with a knee injury and no real timetable for a return, Benning brought up the only goalie in the organization he could, 19-year-old Michael DiPietro. From the Ottawa 67’s to the show in the snap of two fingers. But why was this the only option?
The Canucks’ razor-thin goaltending options have been a cause for concern for weeks now. In early January, Anders Nilsson was shipped to Ottawa, and Mike McKenna was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia, all to make way for Thatcher Demko to get his NHL shot. The fans rejoiced!
On February 7th, Demko was placed on the 10-day injured reserve with a slight MCL sprain. The goaltending options shrunk considerably. And so DiPietro was called up to back up Markstrom and nothing more.
This is where it gets a little peculiar — bring up Michael DiPietro strictly to sit on the bench? Okay.
Then there is Jacob Markstrom, who’s playing the best hockey of his career, but is proven not to be a ‘workload’ type of goalie. Markstrom responds positively and plays better with regular rest and games off. Thankfully, the Canucks’ schedule has allowed that with the All-Star break and bye week in late January.
So there is a goaltender who plays his best when rested, and a 19-year-old who is supposed to just sit there as the team enters a stretch of five games in eight nights, and four of them are in six nights — in four different cities.
Given the Canucks’ schedule and an OHL goalie, were the Canucks expecting Markstrom to play all of those games or cross their fingers and hope Thatcher Demko would be ready right on schedule? Because Michael DiPietro wasn’t, and that was proven Monday night.
Markstrom played three straight games the week prior without a backup, losing to Washington, an OT loss to Chicago as well as one of his best performances of the year, a 4-3 shootout win vs. Calgary. But this workload caught up to him much sooner, and lower body tightness forced him out Monday vs. San Jose.
Travis Green’s comments were vague and confusing. DiPietro had to play. Markstrom couldn’t play, but was available… but wasn’t going to be. Translation: DiPietro was going to play the entire game, and the Canucks would hope to God it wasn’t too ugly.
Well, that dice roll didn’t pay off.
The Canucks were sloppy, slow and didn’t generate a shot until well into the first period. Meanwhile, a lazy defensive effort from Erik Gudbranson saw the Sharks go up 1-0 on the first shot of the game (everybody’s nightmare situation with an impressionable goalie).
What soon followed were fumbled and botched defensive efforts from the Canucks. Ben Hutton batting a puck out of mid-air only to bounce off DiPietro’s shoulder an in the net. A shot off Horvat’s glove and in. It was a miserable night.
A 7-2 Sharks final left everyone questioning the team and the management. This could have been prevented? Why wasn’t it?
A quick look at the Canucks’ schedule and Jacob Markstrom’s history shows he needed a rest. At this level of play, you cannot take an eh, let’s hope for the best and see what happens approach.
For a team that’s trying to prove to their fans and the rest of the league that they are a playoff team, this short-sighted thinking really could hinder those plans. Next to Elias Pettersson, Jacob Markstrom has been the team’s MVP, but now his health is in question. If the Canucks organization is hell-bent on making the playoffs, ensuring the starting goalie is healthy and able to play would be the key. Wouldn’t it?
As soon as Demko went on the injured reserve, a move needed to have been made for a veteran AHL goaltender to come in and get one or two starts. As of Tuesday morning, Jimbo traded a 2020 7th round pick to the New York Rangers for Marek Mazanec.
This move was about two days too late.
Mazanec has the type of goalie stats you’d expect for a goalie bouncing around the AHL in his late 20’s. A 7-8 record, 3.01 GAA and a .903 SV%. Perfect for a spot start or two to give Markstrom the rest he needs to remain healthy and for the Canucks’ playoff chances to remain a possibility. Remember, Demko’s return date is still in question.
Obviously shit happens, and players get injured. This was simply preventable.
Am I worried about this affecting Michael DiPietro’s development? Absolutely not. The kid is confident and mature and has performed at the biggest stage possible for his age as the starting goaltender for Team Canada at the World Juniors (in the city of the team that drafted him). He will get over it, and he will be back.
What I am worried about is the fact that this short-sighted, last minute mindset from the Canucks might impact the health of Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko and their playoff chances.
If you see smoke, don’t walk towards the flame. But the Canucks kept going and they got burned.