Ed Willes: Canucks’ mini-crisis in the crease threatens quest for playoffs
ANAHEIM — In the space of a week, the Vancouver Canucks goaltending situation has been transformed from a relatively happy place to a mini-crisis which threatens the team’s quest for the playoffs.
With that in mind, it’s quite likely Marek Mazanec isn’t the answer to the Jim Benning’s prayers.
But whatever else he is, the 27-year-old Czech arrives in Vancouver as a cheap insurance policy for Jacob Markstrom and a more plausible net-minding option than Mikey DiPietro. In a perfect world, Mazanec will wear a ball cap for the next stretch of games while Thatcher Demko recovers from a sprained knee and, if he’s remembered at all, he’ll be remembered as the answer to a trivia question.
If he’s anything more than that, the Canucks and Benning better hope they guessed right on the journeyman.
“We needed to get through these three games,” Benning said on Tuesday, referring to a road swing through California which begins in Anaheim on Wednesday. “Demko should be ready to go then.”
He can only hope.
The Canucks GM has been trying to finesse a dangerous situation with his goalies since Anders Nilsson was dealt to Ottawa shortly after the New Year and Mike McKenna, the goalie obtained from the Senators, was picked up on waivers by Philadelphia. That made DiPietro, an elite prospect whose regular gig is with Ottawa in the OHL, the third goalie in the organization. But with Markstrom on top of his game and Demko with the big club, what could possibly go wrong.
If you guessed everything, you know this organization.
In short order, Demko sprained his knee during a pre-game warmup in Philly eight days ago which made the 19-year-old DiPietro the backup. Markstrom, naturally, woke up on Monday complaining of tightness, which gave head coach Trent Green “no choice” but to start DiPietro against the Sharks. It’s now being reported that Markstrom is dealing with back spasms.
One 7-2 loss later — more on that below — Benning flipped a seventh-round pick to the New York Rangers in exchanged for Mazanec, who’d been playing for the Blueshirts’ AHL-affiliate in Hartford. A sixth-round pick by Nashville in 2012, the 6-foot-4, 202-pound keeper has played 31 career NHL games, all with the Predators and none since 2016-17.
Still, he represented a more responsible option than DiPietro, who allowed a goal on the first shot he faced against the Sharks and three on the first five while generally looking overmatched.
In his post-game scrum, the buoyant DiPietro called the evening a “learning experience,” and, on four different occasions, called his first NHL game, “a dream come true.”
Say this for the kid: He doesn’t discourage easily.
“I want to focus on the little things I did right,” DiPietro said. “I thought my third period was stronger than the first two. The familiarity and feeling more comfortable as the game went on, that’s a positive too.
“When you focus on the negatives, you can feel like an ant in the net. You can’t change what happened in the past.”
Even if most of the Canucks wish they could.
“You feel bad for him,” said defenceman Troy Stecher. “But you can’t feel bad in this league or else you’ll get embarrassed again and we were embarrassing.
“I played my first game at 22 and nearly s—t my pants. I can only imagine what it was like for a goalie.”
Green, meanwhile, said he hopes — there’s that word again — Markstrom will be ready for Wednesday night’s game against Anaheim. Looming on their schedule is a Thursday night meeting with the Kings in L.A., which might mean a start for the Mazanec, and a game against the Sharks in San Jose two nights later.
In the meantime, Mazanec supplants DiPietro as the backup and the teenager will likely be headed back to Ottawa.
˚“He’ll be fine,” Green said of his young goalie. “When he first got here we talked about taking it all in and learning from it. I didn’t expect him to learn this way but it will be good (for him).”
“It was weird,” DiPietro said. “Some nerves and unfortunate bounces there. But I guess it’s part of the game, just not something you’d want in your first one.”
Or any other one.
LISTEN: On this episode of the White Towel podcast, Patrick Johnston is joined by the Utica Observer-Dispatch’s Ben Birnell to chat about the Utica Comets.
Author: Ed Willes