When the Vancouver Canucks entered this season they did it with tepid expectations. Many pundits felt they had an uphill battle to the playoffs, and that if they were going to go anywhere they were going to do it on the back of goaltender Ryan Miller.
Through the first month of the season, Miller did not disappoint. Through Nov. 2, he appeared in 11 of the Canucks’ first 12 games and compiled a record of 5-2-4. In those 11 contests he collected one shutout and held the opposition to two or less goals in five games. Miller’s efforts helped Vancouver get off to a surprisingly strong start in the Pacific Division as he demonstrated to the hockey world that he can still be a strong everyday goaltender at age 35.
But November has been a bit of a different story for the Michigan native. Since his start on Nov. 4 against Pittsburgh, Miller has posted a record of 1-5-1 and has not given up anything less than three goals in any of his seven appearances in that span through Monday.
In total, he has appeared in 18 games and has compiled a record of 6-7-5 with a 2.54 goals against average, a .911 save percentage and he has allowed 46 goals in those games. And as Miller goes, so go the Canucks. In their last 10 games, they’ve gone 2-6-2 and are hanging onto third place in the division by a thread, sitting just four points behind the second place Sharks and one point ahead of the fourth place Coyotes.
When taking a look at why Miller — and really the Canucks as a whole — have lost some of that October momentum this month, it’s easy to see that he has been a minutes eater through the first quarter of the season.
Through Monday, Miller’s 18 appearances have him tied for first with Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky in games played, while his 1,086 minutes played trails only Rinne’s 1,089.
And the heavy minutes haven’t just been because Willie Desjardins wanted to run with his hot goalie as long as possible. Vancouver’s backup goaltender situation has been a bit of a dicey situation since the start of the season.
Jacob Markstrom, who helped push the Canucks to the postseason late last year, started this season on injured reserve with a reported hamstring injury. That forced Miller to take over the goaltending responsibilities completely. The native of Sweden returned to action on Nov. 10, after completing a conditioning assignment in the AHL with Utica, where he stopped 42 of Columbus’ 45 shots en route to a 5-3 win over the Blue Jackets.
With Markstrom out, backup responsibilities fell on Richard Bachman. But the Salt Lake City native would appear in just one game, stopping 28 of 31 shots en route to a 4-3 win in Arizona on Oct. 30.
But now with Backstrom healthy again, the Canucks are hoping to give Markstrom more time between the pipes while they hit the reboot button on Miller in hopes that some rest can help him return to his October play. Since Markstrom’s return on Nov. 10, he has appeared in two more contests. In total, he has compiled a record of 1-1-1 with a 3.31 GAA, a .903 save percentage and he has surrendered 10 goals in his three games played.
Goaltending is key to any team’s success, and the Canucks might have to rely on it a bit more than most teams, which means they’ll need a fresh Ryan Miller with an effective Jacob Markstrom pushing him all through the season.