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[Article] DeSmith's stellar start has Canucks feeling 'comfortable' about their goaltending


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DeSmith's stellar start has Canucks feeling 'comfortable' about their goaltending


Iain MacIntyre @imacSportsnet

October 26, 2023, 9:43 PM


VANCOUVER – If backup goalie Casey DeSmith doesn’t get his third start for the Vancouver Canucks Friday against the St. Louis Blues, then he’ll play Saturday against the New York Rangers. 

Friday is Game 7 for the Canucks.

Last season, it took 11 games for previous backup Spencer Martin to make his third start for the Canucks. The year before that, Jaroslav Halak was the No. 2 and didn’t make his third appearance for Vancouver until Game 13.


DeSmith is not getting to play early because starter Thatcher Demko is hurt or out of form. Actually, Demko is healthy and sharp. DeSmith is playing because the Canucks want to keep it that way – and because the team’s new backup goalie, acquired in a pre-training camp trade from Montreal, is off to a stellar start in Vancouver.

“I think we all talk about it; we can't overplay Demmer,” Canucks coach Rick Tocchet said Thursday. “It's just not prudent. In the league (for) any team, it's hard to have guys play 60 games and also be successful in the playoffs. Look at Vegas last year; they had three goalies.


“We're at a situation where we're comfortable with our goaltending. I'm biased, but I think we've got two of the best goalies in the league.”

Well, Tocchet is biased.


But through six games – four of them wins despite a difficult, road-heavy schedule – the Canucks have the third-best even-strength save percentage in the National Hockey League at 94.1 per cent. Last season, when Demko missed three months with a groin injury, Canuck goaltending was 26th at 89.8 per cent.


In all situations, the Demko-DeSmith tandem has the fifth-best save rate in the NHL at .925, a rocket blast upward from the team’s 31st ranking last season at .883.


“It definitely feels good to have that vote of confidence from Toc and the other coaches,” DeSmith, 32, said after practising at Rogers Arena.


“Obviously, Demmer is an unbelievable goalie and he's carried this team for a lot of his career. Everybody knows how capable he is. I just think that maybe they wanted somebody to take a little bit of the workload so that Demmer can focus on staying healthy and being there when it really comes down to crunch time.


“It just feels good to kind of gain the confidence not only for myself, but hopefully instill a little bit of confidence in my teammates -- that when I go in, you know, it's not a loss night or anything like that.”


DeSmith is 2-0 as a Canuck and, including a brief relief appearance when Demko was battling the flu during the season-opener, has a save percentage of .938.


“It's been great to get to know him this year,” Demko said. “And we've clicked tremendously, so that's been awesome, too, just having that likeability in a partner. We're both cheering for each other.


“At the end of the day, this is our workplace and there's going to be different personalities brought into the room. Obviously, every guy is different. I've had a handful of partners over the last couple of years and you learn how they like to work and kind of what their personalities are like. It's been a treat to get to know Casey here the last couple of weeks.”


DeSmith spent the last eight years in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. After a breakthrough 2018-19 season when he played 36 games as Matt Murray’s backup, DeSmith appeared to be a potential future starter, only to lose his NHL job to Tristan Jarry the following season and spend the entire year back in the American Hockey League.


DeSmith played 84 games for the Penguins over the last three seasons before he was included in August’s three-way blockbuster that sent defenceman Erik Karlsson to Pittsburgh from the San Jose Sharks. The goalie spent six weeks as a Montreal Canadien before Canuck GM Patrik Allvin acquired DeSmith on Sept. 19 for Tanner Pearson and a third-round pick as an upgrade on Martin, who 10 days later was claimed on waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets.


“When I heard that I got traded here, I was really excited,” DeSmith said. “It just felt good to kind of have a sense of: OK, this is where I'm actually going to be. Montreal was very up in the air and nothing seemed to be very clear. Despite growing up as a Habs fan, it was hard to be that excited about it because I didn't know if it was going to stick.


“I was just hopeful that I would land in a place where I would be able to play and contribute to a team and be part of a winning culture. So far, I couldn't be happier with the landing spot”…


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