The Golden Knights were expected to smell blood on Tuesday night after the Canucks announced backup goaltender Thatcher Demko as the starter for Game 5. If anything, the reverse happened. Demko became the shark and snacked on a quantity of Vegas shots.
Since his performance was so strong and starter Jacob Markstrom was designated as “unfit to play”, Vancouver may select Demko to start tonight’s Game 6. So, who benefits more if they do?
First postseason start or not, Demko’s performance was superb and may be tough to match. In his young career, he’s limited opponents to one goal six times. That’s over a span of 36 starts. He’s a fine goaltender that could frustrate the Golden Knights again, but odds say he’ll allow more than one goal tonight. Which might be all Vegas needs to clinch the seven-game series.
Especially if this is the Golden Knights mindset coming into Game 6.
We’re going to come into tomorrow’s game just to try to step on their necks and end this. -Reilly Smith
Smith also mentioned that Vegas needed to stick with their gameplan no matter what the outcome was after Game 5. The Golden Knights play best when they attack with numbers, using all three forwards to force their way into the Canucks’ zone by using their patented aggressive forecheck. If they play like that, it wouldn’t matter who is tending Vancouver’s net. The top seed in the West hasn’t lost its confidence after Tuesday’s 2-1 loss, they believe they were merely unfortunate. Vegas knows they’re the better club, and if they were to take 43 shots like they did in Game 5, they will go on to advance to the conference finals.
Plus, Vegas got tipped off how Vancouver successfully outlasted them in Game 5.
We’re just trying to play fast and get the puck in their zone. They clog the middle pretty well so we can’t really skate through it. The longer we wait to pass then their forwards are stuck at the far blue line. So if we pass it to them then they have no speed. For us we were just trying to get it out of our hands quickly so they can get on the forecheck with speed. It’s the defenseman’s responsibility to get up and gap up and try and support the forecheck. -Quinn Hughes, VAN defenseman
Leaked strategy or not, it shouldn’t matter for a good team like Vegas. Coach Pete DeBoer and his players will/should adapt from last game’s miscues.
We’re never a group that sugarcoats things, that’s not how you improve. I’m never going to criticize a win too harshly, but we’re always going to look to make adjustments… I thought we weren’t quite skating the way we could and we weren’t great with the puck, and when those two are in our game, it’s usually a recipe for playing in your own zone. -Travis Green, VAN coach
In 2019-20, Demko started two games each against COL, FLA, OTT, PHI, SJ, and STL. The Canucks backup was 4-1-1 in the second game of his two starts vs. those six teams.
If Vancouver coach Travis Green decides to start Demko or Markstrom his team will feel comfortable either way. Green was happy with the outcome of Game 5 but understands his lineup will have to manufacture a cleaner performance to force a Game 7. Winning by giving away zone time may work once a series, the Canucks are mindful they won’t win in that fashion again.
We defended in our own zone a fair amount last night and that makes you tired, so discipline comes when you’re tired as well. It’s hard not to take penalties when you’re defending and you’re tired. -Green
In conclusion, the Golden Knights hold the advantage if Demko gets the start in net. He’s quite capable of matching his performance from Game 5, but he shouldn’t see the same type of outcome. The Canucks know they cannot win playing most of the game in their own zone, or allowing another 43-17 shot differential. Both situations play to Vegas’ strengths, which will create extended periods in Vancouver’s zone. When that happens, it won’t matter who Green starts.
Games deep in a series are usually won by the better lineup. The Golden Knights talent and aggressive attack should be enough to clinch tonight and advance to the semifinals. If not, either their approach or lineup will need some tinkering for Game 7.
Just don’t plan on it.