Strength in goal a question mark for Canucks after decade of stability

Ryan Miller in a Canucks pregame warm-up

Ryan Miller’s consistency between the pipes for the Canucks is largely overshadowed by the team’s poor play and lack of success (Source: Orlandkurtenbach, Wikipedia).

The departure of Ryan Miller means it’s now up to Jacob Markstrom to carry the load for the Canucks and continue the run of strong goaltending in Vancouver.

Miller’s three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks are easy to overlook. The team declined at an alarming rate after a surprising 101-point season in the 2014-’15 campaign, and was outright terrible for the past two seasons, dealing with a barrage of injuries and inconsistent play. Many blamed head coach Willie Desjardins, and the constant backlash from the fans may have ultimately led to his dismissal as Canucks bench boss after just three seasons. Miller’s dismissal from Vancouver came at the end of those three seasons as well, as he signed a two-year, $4-million contract with the Anaheim Ducks on July 1.

Despite playing behind an often decrepit and underperforming team, Miller’s numbers from his time with Vancouver are solid and similar to his career averages. The 2010 Vezina winner went 64-68-16 in 150 games with the Canucks, posting a respectable .916 save percentage and 2.60 goals against average, along with 10 shutouts.  Miller did more than his fair share while in Vancouver.

With Miller gone, the starting goaltending position shifts towards Jacob Markstrom, who has yet to prove he is capable of being a true number one. He has shown glimpses of promise since he arrived in Vancouver from Florida in the Roberto Luongo trade in 2014, but those glimpses are often overshadowed by his inconsistent play. Fellow Swede and big man Anders Nilsson was signed by the Canucks to fill the void left by Miller, albeit in a backup role to new starter Markstrom. Both Markstrom and Nilsson stand around six-feet-five-inches, a hulking height by today’s NHL goalie standards, but their play must be what defines them if they hope to have any success this season.

Jacob Markstrom warming up in Vancouver Millionaires jersey

All eyes will be on Jacob Markstrom now that he is the number one goalie in Vancouver (Source: Orlandkurtenbach, Wikipedia).

Kevin Woodley, Vancouver correspondent for and managing partner for InGoal Magazine, specializes in talking goalies, and he shares his thoughts about the current state of the Canucks goaltending.

What are your thoughts on Ryan Miller’s three years in Vancouver?

On the ice, Miller’s experience and demeanour provided stability to an organization and players that had benefitted from the confidence that type of presence can provide ever since Luongo arrived in 2006.

What was Miller’s impact on Jacob Markstrom?

Off the ice, the way Miller dealt with the media and the ups and downs of the position, the way he took care of his body, equipment and game on a daily basis was a great example for Markstrom to see.

What are your thoughts on Markstrom and Anders Nilsson?  Do you think they can provide close to what Miller provided for the Canucks?

Both goalies have the physical tools to perhaps be even better than Miller was here, but it’s how they manage and evolve those tools while dealing with a new level of pressure and likely an increased workload. If one separates themselves as a true number one early, that will determine whether they can have the same impact. Consistency is easier said than done in this position, and Miller brought that.

What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of Markstrom and Nilsson?

Size is the obvious answer but behind that they are different. Markstrom moves incredibly fast for a goalie of his size but sometimes it leaves him moving too much as well, and bigger goalies have to open and close bigger holes the more and further they move, so continuing to improve his efficiency of movement and quieting his game a little more without losing that edge of being able to explode when needed will be the balance for Markstrom.  Nilsson already plays deeper, some may argue too deep at times, and quieter, relying more on his size at times but he too has inefficiencies remaining within the biomechanics of those movements, especially laterally, that can leave him exposed. Continuing to clean those up will allow him to take more ice as increased efficiency buys him more time and less need to stay back just to shorten those movements. Unlike Markstrom, Nilsson also has some real experience being the guy for a longer period of time, outplaying Cam Talbot for close to two months in Edmonton two years go before fading, and says he’s learned from that, including now working with a sports psychologist from Norway to try and give himself more tools to deal with the demands of being the No.1 goalie night in and night out. Most goalies go through an adjustment period taking that step and it may help Nilsson has done it before.

Do you think the Canucks can get back to the playoffs?  Do Markstrom or Nilsson have the ability to lead them there?

I think it’s a stretch to project the Canucks will be in the playoffs but they’ll need high-end goaltending from both to make it happen. Even if Markstrom establishes himself as the No.1, he’ll need breaks to manage his game, and the difference between making it or not can often be wins when the starter isn’t playing. My bet is this ends up being a closer split than many assume, but no matter what they’ll need both to be good to have a chance.

What are your thoughts on Thatcher Demko?  Is he the next number one in Vancouver?

The physical tools are there but what I’ve loved about Demko since they drafted him is how well he thinks the position and understands if he’s not evolving within it he is falling behind those that are. That said, there are still steps that need to occur to get to the point he relies less on the raw physical reactive gifts he got away with in college and more on size, speed and better movement habits to beat plays and put himself in a position where he doesn’t have to reach and open up and rely on great hands as often as he has in the past. Like Cory Schneider before him, I’ve always said this is a three-year project in the AHL and still think it is.

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