There’s a new energy in the Vancouver Canucks’ locker room these days, says goalie Thatcher Demko.
After struggling through much of the season, the team has found ways to win in recent weeks, including a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday that stretched their win streak to a season-high four games.
“We can definitely feel it in the room. I think there’s a buy-in that’s going on right now,” Demko said after making 18 saves Saturday. “That’s just playing the right way. It’s contagious when everyone’s doing it and it looks good.”
The solid run of form has coincided with the all-star goalie’s return to the crease after missing more than three months with a groin injury.
Demko, who’s 4-1-0 since his return, said his teammates were obviously putting in work while he was sidelined.
“So who knows? Maybe I’m just reaping the rewards of the guys working hard all year,” he said. “But it looks great.”
Ten players racked up points for the Canucks (28-32-5) on Saturday, including Andrei Kuzmenko, who scored twice, including a power-play tally into an empty net with 14.8 seconds left on the game clock.
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Vancouver’s J.T. Miller and Nils Aman each contributed a goal and an assist, and Sheldon Dries also found the back of the net. Dakota Joshua registered a pair of helpers.
The Senators (33-28-4) struggled to get a puck past Demko until midway through the third period, when Claude Giroux and Nick Holden scored two minutes and five seconds apart. Tim Stutzle assisted on both.
Mads Sogaard stopped 25-of-30 shots for Ottawa.
“It’s frustrating. I didn’t think we played that bad,” Giroux said. “We did a lot of good things but kind of a weird game, to be honest. You think you’re playing a pretty good and then you’re down 4-0. So definitely frustrating.”
Vancouver limited the visitors to 20 shots, including just 12 across the first two periods.
“It means everybody’s gapping up and the defence are trusting the forwards that they’re backing the defencemen up,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet. “It’s a lot of different trust factors. You can’t play this game if you don’t trust your teammates, and that’s something we’ve really worked on the last six weeks is trust.”
Ottawa finally got a puck past Demko 13:39 into the final frame when Thomas Chabot’s shot hit Aman in front of the net and deflected to Giroux. The veteran forward quickly popped it in backdoor to make it 4-1 with his 28th goal of the season.
Penalties proved to be the difference maker Saturday, said Sens head coach D.J. Smith.
The Canucks went 1-for-6 on the power play and the Sens were 0-for-3.
“We took a penalty, lost momentum. We took another penalty, lost momentum. Penalty kill was really good,” Smith said.
“We made a couple mistakes that ended up in the net and then, third period we make a push and we score some goals and then we take two more penalties. We took six penalties on the road tonight. (When you do that) you’re not going to win.”
Vancouver’s penalty kill proved to be potent yet again after Anthony Beauvillier was sent to the box for slashing early in the second.
Demko came up big with a stop on Brady Tkachuk in tight and the Canucks turned the ensuing rebound into a two-on-one going the other way.
Guarded by Alex DeBrincat, Miller and Aman sprinted up the ice where Miller sent a pass across the slot to Aman. The Swedish centre dished the puck back to Miller and he tapped it in backdoor to put Vancouver up 2-0 with his 24th goal of the season 4:24 into the middle frame.
The Canucks have 11 short-handed goals on the season, tied with Carolina and Philadelphia for second most in the NHL. Edmonton leads with 12.
Nine of Vancouver’s short-handed tallies have come in the 19 games the team has played under Tocchet, who took over as head coach on Jan. 22.
“It’s just a matter of catching our breaks, honestly,” Miller said of the streak. “We got gifted a two-on-one and (DeBrincat) pretty much fell. So it’s not like we’re looking for them, they’re just kind of falling on our tape right now.”.
Kuzmenko has points in four straight games, with three goals and an assist across the stretch. Pettersson has also found the scoresheet in his last four outings, putting up two goals and four assists.
Canucks will wrap a six-game homestand Tuesday when they host the Dallas Stars.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2023.
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