VANCOUVER, B.C. – It’s no secret that the Abbotsford Canucks have slumped to start the 2022 calendar year. One win in five games is not very promising and comes as the Canucks deal with rampant injuries. At its worst, Abbotsford dressed ten forwards and five defensemen in a game against the Condors.
With the decimation in and around the team, attention has to be paid to the netminders. Both Michael DiPietro and Arturs Silovs have been shaky at best as of late after starting the year off with so much promise. It also hasn’t helped matters that the most consistent goaltender in Abbotsford, Spencer Martin, was called up to backup Vancouver after Jaroslav Halak entered COVID-19 protocols.
So then, what’s going on for the highly-touted goaltending prospects?
Confidence and Rhythm
There’s a saying that goalies of creatures of habit. Rituals must be followed, superstitions observed. While those appeal to the supernatural aspect around hockey, in reality, getting consistent game reps is huge, especially in developing prospects. It is here where the wacky schedule of the Canucks hasn’t played to their netminder’s favor.
After dealing with catastrophic flooding that postponed multiple games in November, Abbotsford looked to be stringing together some decent results, winning five of eight in December. Then, the Omicron variant swept through North America. A tough 3-1 loss against the Henderson Silver Knights on December 19 would be the last time the Canucks played until January 6.
DiPietro with a verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry weak goal-against#AbbotsfordCanucks pic.twitter.com/K16uFTELOm
— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) November 15, 2021
It had already been a bit of a struggle for DiPietro and Silovs. Both netminders, possibly because of being scouted more, were having their shortcomings exposed more frequently. It probably didn’t help that they couldn’t get into much more of the remaining games as Martin supplanted them both.
The lack of game experience seems to have amplified the rawness of the two. Even after making highlight-reel stops, DiPietro has been giving up some very weak goals against. At times he’s too aggressive in his challenges; others, he’s too passive deep in his crease. Those moments of indecisiveness have also resulted in some weak rebound control, something that he still needs to work on.
🚩🚩🚩🚩🚩#AbbyCanucks #Canucks pic.twitter.com/OdgyQ1HcQD
— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) January 7, 2022
Silovs hasn’t been much better, although, to his credit, he’s sometimes been the reason why the Canucks have a chance of winning in certain games. The Latvian has looked tentative in net, deep in his crease and not asserting his ground. Silovs’ positioning has cost him dearly at times, whether it’s fighting through screens or a delayed reaction to a cross-seam pass.
You can’t give last season’s #AHL goal scoring leader that much time. #Condorstown pic.twitter.com/gxnkTQSVCB
— Bakersfield Condors (@Condors) January 10, 2022
Unfortunately, the numbers reflect their play quite well. DiPietro posts a 3.19 GAA with a .896 save percentage, while Silovs has a 3.05 GAA with an .888 save percentage. Not ideal for development and certainly not suitable for winning hockey games.
It’s also no secret that Abbotsford’s D-corps has been a bit lacking, both from the personnel and quite literally the bodies that they are able to dress. A depth signing earlier in the year, Cameron Schilling cemented himself as one of the better defenders on the roster. He’s gone now, jumping ship to the Swedish Hockey League.
What injuries and COVID have resulted in is a hot mess on the back end. Vancouver has needed to draw upon the already depleted Abbotsford roster, with keystones Ashton Sautner and Guillaume Brisebois filling in the NHL. That’s not to mention the whole Travis Hamonic saga, where he appears to be completely AWOL from the Canucks organization.
It’s left Abbotsford scrambling for replacements. PTOs have been handed out like candy, and though players have been doing their best, sometimes it leads to horrific sequences like these.
Raf x 2!! #Condorstown pic.twitter.com/q2Sw8haavu
— Bakersfield Condors (@Condors) January 10, 2022
Yes, that’s former Vancouver Giant Alex Kannok-Liepert in that play. In his first professional season, he’s been forced into more game time than first thought, thanks to the massive shortcomings on the backend. From the games where Abbotsford has only dressed five defensemen, to a top-four AHL role, Kannok-Liepert hasn’t been sheltered.
Alex Kannok Leipert with a sequence that he'll love to forget!
Gulls' up 2-zip off a brutal d-zone giveaway and a howitzer from Hunter Drew#AbbyCanucks #Canucks pic.twitter.com/IMZqwC6UwK
— Cody Severtson (@CodySevertson) January 16, 2022
The combination of inexperience and lack of game-time has yielded ugly sequences where the goalies are hung out to dry. Not all the goals are the defense’s fault, but they certainly haven’t done their netminders any favors.
Lack of Run Support
DiPietro and Silovs haven’t gotten the offense that they have needed either. Sometimes teams need to bail out their goalies’ bad nights, but unfortunately, Abbotsford hasn’t been able to do that more often than not.
At first glance, the Canucks offense hasn’t been bad. Their 81 goals for puts them right smack average in the Pacific Divison. However, breaking down the games where they got the goals provides a lot more perspective. Thirty-seven tallies have come in nine games against the hapless San Jose Barracuda and San Diego Gulls, the only two teams below the Canucks in the Pacific. The other 44 goals were scored in their other 18 games against the other six teams in the division. It works out to about 2.44 goals per game, which isn’t great.
It shows, especially in Silovs’ case. In his seven starts, the Canucks have only scored 14 goals. That’s simply not enough for him to work with, and his two wins and five losses show that.
And the news up front only gets worse. Though leading goalscorer Sheldon Dries continues to stick with Abbotsford, a myriad of call-ups have impacted their forward depth. Phil Di Giuseppe, Sheldon Rempal, Justin Bailey all have seen time up in Vancouver’s taxi squad. What this also means is that Abbotsford loses some very potent AHL players. Again, the Canucks have been filling the gaps with PTOs, but there is only so much they can do.
In all, the struggles of the Canucks’ goalie prospects come down to a lack of experience, a mess on the back end, not enough offense, and of course, chaos in the injury department. It remains to be seen what the rest of the season plays out like, but DiPietro will be spending some time on the taxi squad after Martin moves into the backup role.
In the meantime, why don’t the Abbotsford Canucks sign a local goalie to fill the vacant backup? Rylan Toth of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds has been posting one of the most statistically dominant seasons in Canada West history, posting a 1.62 GAA on a .941 save percentage.
The NHL and AHL have already seen Logan Thompson make a significant impact, the former Brock University netminder having a shutout to his name in the NHL. With similar numbers and a lack of goalies to fill the void, Toth wouldn’t be a bad option to give Silovs a break.
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