vancouver NHL

Goalie Helps Spark Turnaround For Vancouver With New Coach

Demko thriving for Canucks under Boudreau, seen as Vezina contender, VANCOUVER — Thatcher Demko is trying to tamp down growing expectations after his hot December put him into the conversation for the Vezina Trophy.

“We haven’t even played half the games yet, so I guess we can just cool it on that a little bit,” the Vancouver Canucks goalie said last week. “A lot more games to play and a lot of work to do.”

Whether he likes it or not, Demko is being mentioned as a contender for the Vezina, awarded to the best goalie in the NHL each season as voted by the 32 general managers.

He was 7-1-0 with a 1.72 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage and one shutout in December to earn NHL Third Star honors for the month. The 26-year-old hasn’t lost since Bruce Boudreau replaced Travis Green as coach Dec. 5, going 7-0-0 with a 1.40 GAA and .955 save percentage; prior to that, he was 8-11-1 with a 2.97 GAA and a .908 save percentage.

“As good I’ve had at that position ever when I coached,” was how Boudreau described Demko and defenseman Quinn Hughes, another key player in Vancouver’s turnaround (eight assists, plus-6 in nine games under Boudreau). The Canucks (16-15-3) are 8-0-1 since the coaching change after starting the season 8-15-2.

Boudreau compared Demko to two goalies he worked with in previous stops as an NHL coach: Braden Holtby with the Washington Capitals and John Gibson with the Anaheim Ducks. Holtby won the Vezina in 2015-16, his third season as the Capitals’ No. 1 goalie. Boudreau coached him for two seasons (2010-12) before coaching Gibson for three seasons (2013-16).

Demko is in his first full season as the No. 1 in Vancouver. He took the job from Holtby last season after it was expected that they’d share it.

“He’s going to be so good,” Holtby, who signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent July 28, said earlier this season. “Already is.”

Demko was projected to be a No. 1 goalie when the Canucks selected him in the second round (No. 36) of the 2014 NHL Draft. He was 13-10-2 with a 3.06 GAA and a .905 save percentage in 27 games (25 starts) as the backup to Jacob Markstrom in his first full NHL season in 2019-20, but showed during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs how high his ceiling might be.

Replacing the injured Markstrom in the Western Conference Second Round against the Vegas Golden Knights, Demko allowed two goals on 125 shots in the final three games — his first three NHL postseason starts — for a .984 save percentage, though the Canucks lost the series in seven games.

That performance earned him the nickname Bubble Demko because the 2020 playoffs were played in a controlled environment without fans due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He said he is prouder of what he is doing now.

“I’m a little sick of people talking about the Bubble Demko thing,” he said. “It was awesome, but it was just three games, and I knew I had a lot more to prove. Last year, I felt like I flirted with it a little bit, and this year I really wanted to come in and just nail down that consistency and prove I could do it on a nightly basis.”

Demko is 15-11-1 in 27 starts this season, and his .920 save percentage is 10th among goalies who have played at least 15 games. That may not jump out as worthy of a potential Vezina finalist, but much like his .915 save percentage last season, some of Demko’s statistics have been suppressed by the amount of high-quality scoring chances Vancouver allowed under Green.

If those chances continue to be reduced with the Canucks spending more time at the other end of the rink under Boudreau, and Demko’s statistical floor remains raised, then the impact teammates have already noted should be easier for others to see.

Adapting to what Demko called a “different vibe” under Boudreau is also part of the learning curve. Goalies won’t complain about an easier workload, but adjusting to it isn’t always simple.

“We’ve all seen him steal games, but what about the game where he’s less busy and less acrobatic?” Canucks goaltending coach Ian Clark said. “Can he manage a game where he’s just making routine stops and not make mistakes? That can be a tough challenge. Some goalies excel in higher-shot games and some excel in lower-shot games, but to be elite and put together a 60-plus-game resume worthy of being one of the top goalies in the NHL, you have to be able to win all kinds of different games, and that’s an area [where] he’s shown continued improvement.”

Clark, who was the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltending coach when current Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovksy won the Vezina twice with Columbus (2013, 2017), continues to work with Demko to improve on technique for a position that keeps evolving. But Clark said Demko has already put a lot of his foundational work “in the rearview mirror.”

Beyond keeping those structural technical elements sharp, a lot of the work ahead will be between the ears. That shouldn’t be a problem for Demko, who was a psychology major at Boston College.

“We have a ceiling on our physical capacities,” Demko said. “Everyone is talented in this league, so it’s got to be something else that separates guys and I think the mental side is the thing that does that. There’s no ceiling on mental capacity, so you can always keep building in that regard, and the great goalies in the League, that’s what they’re always preaching too. It’s all up top.”

Time will tell if it’s enough to put Demko at the top at the end of the season, and beyond.

“We know he’s capable of it,” Clark said. “We’ve all seen those elite performances. But to be in the air of the greats, there’s a longevity required performing at that level. I believe he has that in him.

“I watch how he conducts himself daily, his work habits, personal discipline, competitiveness, all the intangible prerequisites for that level, he possesses. Now it’s a matter of time.”

NHL, hockey community honor Connecticut teen who died from injury in game

The hockey community, including the NHL and several teams and players, took to social media to honor Teddy Balkind, a 16-year-old who died from an injury sustained in a Connecticut high school hockey game Thursday.

Balkind, who was a sophomore defenseman at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, collided with a player from Brunswick School in Greenwich and sustained a severe neck injury. He was transported to Greenwich Hospital but did not survive surgery.

“Our community is mourning,” St. Luke’s Head of School Mark Davis said to WABC-TV in New York. “Yesterday, we lost a precious young man in a tragic accident. Both St. Luke’s School and Brunswick School are in shock as we work to support our students and families. St. Luke’s singular focus at this moment is to care for our devastated community. Thank you for your concern and for respecting our need to grieve.”

To show support for Balkind, his family and others in mourning, the hockey community started the hashtag #SticksOutForTeddy on Twitter, showing NHL players and others displaying their sticks outside houses and buildings in remembrance of Balkind. Philadelphia Flyers forward and Riverside, Connecticut, native Cam Atkinson tweeted he is “heartbroken for the Balkind family and everyone who knew and loved Teddy.”

Atkinson also wrote Balkind’s initials with a heart on his stick for the Flyers-Sharks game Saturday.

Ducks forward Adam Henrique tweeted a photo of his hockey stick with the caption, “Sad to hear about the tragic loss of Teddy Balkind. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Balkind family. #sticksoutforteddy.”

Boston Bruins forward Nick Foligno tweeted, “Sending all my family’s love to the Balkind family! Just heard the unimaginable news and wanted to send our comfort and strength to the Balkind’s and the friends around them as they mourn the loss of Teddy. Life is precious. This has been another harsh reminder. God bless.”

Martin St. Louis, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who played 1,134 games in the NHL from 1998-2015, now resides in Connecticut. St. Louis tweeted a photo of the three sticks he placed outside his home with the caption, “Sticks out for Teddy.”

Balkind was a member of the New Canaan Winter Club hockey team, which tweeted Friday that, “Teddy was a wonderful young man, always smiling, a terrific teammate. No words are adequate for the grief we are all feeling. Our prayers are with Teddy and his family.”

“Last night, the New Canaan Winter Club, along with the broader hockey community lost a beloved teammate, friend and community member,” the club said in a statement. “Teddy Balkind skated for the Winter Club throughout his youth hockey career and was known to us all as a hard worker and terrific young hockey player. The Winter Club is heartbroken, and we join the worldwide hockey family in grief for this unfortunate accident. As the hockey community does, in the coming days, weeks and months we will rally around the Balkind family in support.”

Fantasy hockey top 25 line rankings

NHL.com ranks the top 25 forward lines in terms of fantasy hockey upside for the rest of the 2021-22 season. For more fantasy coverage, visit NHL.com/Fantasy and subscribe for free to the “NHL Fantasy on Ice” podcast.

FANTASY RANKINGS: Top 200

100 forwards | 50 ‘D’ | 25 goalies

Top 10 waiver wire | Power ranks

DFS picks | Projected lineups

FANTASY TOP 25 LINES

NOTES: These rankings take into account NHL.com fantasy top 200 rank, past production in standard categories (goals, assists, plus/minus, power-play points, shots on goal, hits), line stability or fluctuation, team scoring distribution and other factors including but not limited to impact of injuries, contract status of any individual player(s) and overall upside for the rest of the season.

1. COL L1: Landeskog — MacKinnon — Rantanen

2. TBL L1: Palat — Point — Kucherov

3. BOS L1: Marchand — Bergeron — C. Smith

4. WSH L1: Ovechkin — Kuznetsov / Backstrom (DTD) — Hathaway /
Wilson

5. TOR L1: Bunting — Matthews — Kerfoot

COVID-19 protocol: Marner

6. EDM L1: Foegele — Draisaitl — Puljujarvi

COVID-19 protocol: McDavid, Yamamoto

7. TOR L2: Mikheyev — Tavares — W. Nylander

8. PIT L1: Guentzel — Crosby — Rodrigues

COVID-19 protocol: Rust

9. CAR L1: Niederreiter / A. Svechnikov — Aho — Teravainen / Necas

10. FLA L1: Verhaeghe — Barkov — Mamin

11. FLA L2: Huberdeau — Bennett / Lundell — Duclair

12. VGK L1: Dadonov — Stephenson — Stone

Key injury: Pacioretty, Eichel

13. DAL L1: J. Robertson — Hintz — Pavelski

14. CGY L1: J. Gaudreau — E. Lindholm — M. Tkachuk

15. TBL L2: Killorn — Cirelli — Stamkos (NEW)

16. NSH L1: Jeannot — Granlund — Duchene

COVID-19 protocol: F. Forsberg

17. WPG L1: Ehlers / Stastny (DTD) — Scheifele — Vesalainen

18. NYR L1: Kreider — Zibanejad — Kakko

19. STL L1: Barbashev — O’Reilly — Buchnevich

20. STL L2: Schenn — R. Thomas — Kyrou

COVID-19 protocol: Tarasenko

21. MIN L2: Zuccarello — Hartman — Fiala

Key injury: Kaprizov

22. COL L2: Burakovsky — Kadri — O’Connor / Compher

23. NYR L2: Lafrenière — R. Strome — Goodrow

COVID-19 protocol: Panarin

24. WPG L2: K. Connor — Dubois — E. Svechnikov

25. BOS L2: Hall — Haula — Pastrnak (NEW)

Dropped out of top 25 line rankings:

ANA L1: Milano — Zegras — Rakell

EDM L2: Hyman — McLeod — Kassian

Key injury: Nugent-Hopkins (INJ.)

Blues stun Stars with two goals inside final minute, 18 seconds apart

The lesson: Don’t put the St. Louis Blues on the power play, no matter how little time is left in the game.

The last team to win the Stanley Cup not named the Tampa Bay Lightning scored twice in an 18-second span on Sunday inside the final minute to snatch a win from the jaws of defeat against the Dalls Stars on Sunday at Enterprise Center.

Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly buried a rebound on a power play with 46.3 seconds remaining to tie the game 1-1 [until then, Stars forward Jason Robertson’s second period score was the lone goal].

Before O’Reilly’s shot found the back of the net, however, the Stars were called for a delayed penalty and never regained possession of the puck.

The Blues started the ensuing face-off with a man advantage and, just 18 seconds later, Jordan Kyrou scored when what appeared to be a crossing pass hit Stars defenseman Jani Hakanpaa in the leg and went right in to the net. Stars goalie Braden Holtby never had a fair chance at it.

“It was mayhem,” O’Reilly said of the final minute.

But the Blues know, as does every other hockey tean, when the puck bounces your way, especially in the final minute, you don’t ask questions.

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