SAN JOSE, Calif. — Vancouver Canucks skaters wasted a great effort by goalie Thatcher Demko two weeks ago and they’ve been making up for it ever since.
With Demko back in net Saturday against the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks pumped in four goals in the first 25 minutes and coasted to a 5-2 win. In his last start — the one after Demko was stuck with a 1-0 loss in New Jersey — the Canucks put a touchdown on the scoreboard in a 7-2 win against the Florida Panthers on Monday.
So that was 11 goals of run support in just over four periods for Demko. But he actually doesn’t need much help. The backup netminder didn’t allow a goal until the final 10 minutes Saturday, and his save percentage of .938 ranks fourth in the National Hockey League.
With five out of six points from three games over four nights in California, the Canucks are 9-3-2 and have scored at least five goals in half of their games. That makes playing goal a lot easier.
“Guys are confident and we’re scoring some big goals,” Demko said. “It’s great. It helps me build some confidence as the game gets going.
“I think you can see it already: There’s a different identity to the team. It’s confidence, it’s skating, it’s playing for each other. It’s a lot of fun and guys are doing what it takes to win.”
Second-year forward Adam Gaudette said: “Everybody’s got a great attitude right now. We trust each other out there. It’s just a fun time for this team right now.”
Rarely have the Canucks had this much fun in California.
But while they may love the Golden State, they are so not Californian. Chill, laid-back, live-and-let-live? That’s not the Canucks, who seized the initiative in all three games. While the Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings relaxed, the Canucks were relentless.
They dominated these once-formidable, imposing teams. Vancouver outshot L.A. 36-15 in the first 40 minutes, Anaheim 32-10 through 33 minutes, and San Jose 20-9 through 27. We know the times don’t align, but let’s just call it an 88-34 shooting beatdown by the Canucks in the first half of games.
They beat the Kings 5-3 and should have beaten the Ducks, but lost 2-1 in overtime.
It’s like the California teams were surprised that the Canucks would come at them on the road.
“Maybe a little bit of that,” Vancouver captain Bo Horvat said. “We haven’t been great in years past — maybe teams take us a little lightly. But I think teams know by now we’re going to come hard, and our type of identity that we’re going play hard every single night. I think we’ve been doing a great job of establishing that right away.”
“Something we’re focusing on is coming out hot and keeping that pressure on,” Gaudette said. “We’re a much better team when we start out well and build off that. It’s been working for us.”
Saturday, it took the Canucks 4:17 to take the lead. When overmatched San Jose goalie Aaron Dell — with a save percentage of .878 this season — bounced a rebound out to Brandon Sutter, the Canuck was free from Shark Tim Heed to scoop a backhand into the net.
Elias Pettersson displayed his unearthly hand-eye coordination by tracking linemate Brock Boeser’s deflected sharp-angle shot and batting it past Dell to make it 2-0 at 12:46.
Asked if they play baseball in Sweden, Pettersson deadpanned: “No, but I played a lot of badminton this summer.”
Gaudette must have played a lot of billiards, because for the second straight night he scored by banking in a centring pass, this time off San Jose defenceman Mario Ferraro to make it 3-0 45 seconds into the second period.
And Canuck Jake Virtanen was awarded a goal at 5:11 when Dell appeared to accidentally stop the Canuck’s breakaway backhand, only to have officials huddle, call it a goal, then review it until they were satisfied they couldn’t reverse their initial reversal.
In third-period garbage time, Sharks Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Evander Kane sandwiched goals around another power-play marker by Pettersson, who now has six goals and 20 points in 14 games.
“This was a heckuva trip,” Canuck winger Tanner Pearson, the ex-King, said. “Back in the day, this was probably the hardest road trip in the NHL — L.A., Anaheim, San Jose. We got five out of six points now against division (rivals). It’s huge.”
“You want to get six,” Demko said of the points harvest. “But it’s a tough league.”
• Another game, another defenceman down for the Canucks. Minor-league callup Ashton Sautner, playing for the injured Quinn Hughes, survived only six minutes before be was launched into the end boards on a late, high-speed hit by Sharks defenceman Brenden Dillon.
It’s a contact sport — stuff happens. But not only did referee Steve Kozari not call a penalty, he watched Sautner hit his head on the ice, then lay there for several seconds before eventually wobbling to the bench as play continued. San Jose did not score on its 200-foot five-on-four counter-attack, and Sautner did not return. He was last seen on national television doubled over at the Canuck bench, holding his forehead. Not a good look for the NHL.
Hughes, at least, simply hurt himself Friday in Anaheim. Canuck coach Travis Green confirmed before Saturday’s game that Hughes, an early Calder Trophy candidate, is out day-to-day with a bruised knee after falling while pivoting late in the first period of Vancouver’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Ducks.
So, the Canucks played two games in 24 hours using essentially five defencemen in each. Blue-liner Oscar Fantenberg, recalled Saturday from a conditioning assignment in the American League, is available to play Tuesday in Vancouver against the St. Louis Blues.