March Madness: Markstrom’s injury comes at exactly the wrong time

Canucks face their toughest stretch of the season next month

By their standards, the Canucks have been very fortunate when it comes to injuries this season. While they’ve had some long-term injuries, they’ve mostly avoided injuries to their top players. That’s particularly true on defence, where the oft-injured Chris Tanev has played every game this season.

Their most significant injury came to Brock Boeser, a rib cartilage fracture that is expected to keep him out of the lineup for most of the regular season. The Canucks covered for that injury with the trade for Tyler Toffoli, a capable top-six winger that should be able to fill in the hole left by Boeser and improve the team significantly when Boeser returns.

On Monday, however, Canucks nation got news of an injury that could change the course of the season: Jacob Markstrom could be out of the lineup for three to four weeks with a knee injury.

It couldn’t come at a worse time, as the Canucks are about to embark on their most difficult stretch of the season, a mad March that will likely decide their playoff fate.

The Canucks have had a fairly easy schedule over the past couple months. They’ve had just two sets of back to back games in the last two months and had the bye week in January to help them stay well-rested. Their toughest month was November, and it showed in their record, going 5-7-3.

While the Canucks played 15 games in 30 days in November, March is just that extra bit tougher: 16 games in 30 days.

The first game of the month will be the second game of a back to back weekend. That sets the tone for three more back-to-backs during the month of March. At one point near the end of the month, the Canucks will play six games in just nine nights, a mix of home and road games that could clinch them the playoffs or send them teetering to the edge of the Wild Card race.

What makes these March games even more significant is that half of their games are within the Pacific Division. They’ll play two games against the Arizona Coyotes that could decide the Coyotes playoff fate, and also games against the Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights. These will be crucial games — sometimes referred to as four-point games — for determining where the Canucks finish in the Pacific Division standings.

While some of the Canucks don’t like to think too far ahead when it comes to the schedule, others are well aware of the upcoming challenge. Quinn Hughes, who will play twice as many games this season as he did in college hockey last season, knows that he needs to prepare carefully.

“In March when you play 16 games, it's gonna wear on everyone here, especially me,” said Hughes. “I'm just gonna have to figure that out.”

The bigger issue for the Canucks is the loss of Markstrom. If Markstrom is only out for a brief period of time and can return mid-March, it might not be a problem, but if not, the Canucks face a difficult challenge. The Canucks believe in Thatcher Demko, but with the heavy schedule, including four back to backs, the Canucks need two trustworthy goaltenders, not just one.

“Our team has confidence in [Demko],” said Canucks GM Jim Benning on Monday. “This is an opportunity for him to step in and play like he's played for us all year. It’s not a perfect situation but it is what it is and it's going to be a great opportunity for Thatcher.”

Along with the opportunity for Demko comes the need to give starts to Louis Domingue, who the Canucks picked up at the trade deadline. While Domingue has NHL experience, he’s struggled with the New Jersey Devils this season, with an ugly .882 save percentage.

“He is a player with experience that can come in and help support Thatcher,” said Benning, “and he can play games for us and be competitive if we need him.”

The Canucks have to hope that’s true or March Madness could quickly turn to sadness for Canucks fans.

Stick-taps and Glove-drops

  • A tap of the stick to Troy Stecher, who was thrilled when he didn’t get traded on Monday. “I’m a lifelong Canucks fan and they have no Stanley Cup,” said Stecher to reporters in Montreal. “I think it would be really cool to bring a Stanley Cup to Vancouver. That’s part of my bucket list as a hockey player.”
  • A stick-tap to Louis Domingue’s father, who drove from his home near Montreal to bring his son his old blue and white goalie gear from the Tampa Bay Lightning so he wouldn’t look out of place among the Canucks with his red and black Devils’ gear.

Big Numbers

  • 42 Dale Tallon had 42 assists as a rookie defenceman in the Canucks’ first season, a record that still stands, albeit temporarily. Quinn Hughes had 41 assists heading into Tuesday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.
  • 88 According to HockeyViz.com, the Canucks had an 88 per cent chance of making the playoffs coming out of the trade deadline, the fifth-best odds in the Western Conference.