One’s a superstar and face of the franchise. The other: a rookie, gingerly taking his first steps in the league.
The Canucks goaltending duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider was supposed to play out like a classic 1-2 situation this season, but so far – it has been anything but.
Making his second consecutive home start Friday night against the Wild, Schneider backstopped the Canucks to a redeeming 5-1 win over a team that embarrassed them earlier in the week in Minnesota.
Two starts and two wins for Schneider.
“It’s great getting playing time, especially when you have a team like that playing in front of you in both starts I’ve had,” Schneider said following the game. “ It’s made my life easy and I’m getting comfortable in there and hopefully can take on some bigger roles on the road or some tougher games in the future.”
Schneider impressed in making 23 of 24 saves, but was largely helped out by a Vancouver squad that paid attention to detail defensively and capitalized on offense.
“We seem to be comfortable here at home and we really buzz and put a lot of pressure on other teams so I think we just need to figure out to take this game and take it on the road with us,” Schneider said.
Playing in front of their backup, the Canucks look like a different team than the one Luongo has seen in his first six starts. Untimely penalties, turnovers, a lack of goals, and simple defensive miscues have resulted in Bobby Lou only having one win this season with a 1-3-2 record and a goals-against-average near 3.00.
And while Luongo would be the first to admit he isn’t playing his best, the team has found a way to implode around him in all but one of those starts.
Just three nights prior to Friday’s tilt, Luongo and the Canucks were being shelled by the very same Wild in a game where the team’s frustrations culminated in Rick Rypien’s now infamous shakedown of a Minnesota fan. Luongo was mercifully pulled from the game after two periods and six goals allowed.
Coach Alain Vignault – who many assumed would play Schneider the next night in Chicago after Luongo got the start in Minny – was forced to play Luongo against the Cup Champions in order to restore his star goalie’s confidence. Luongo bounced back and played admirably in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Hawks.
Confidence is a funny thing – but needs to be handled seriously by the Canucks when their star goalie suits up behind them against Colorado on Tuesday night in Vancouver. A poor outing would intensify the pressure to play Schneider – who now has two out of eight starts for the team and is on track to play in the 20 game range the franchise was hoping for.
This is unchartered territory for Luongo. While he has been a perennial slow-starter, he hasn’t had a talented young goaltender breathing down his neck when he – or the team in front of him – falters.
He also hasn’t been in a situation before where he’s been expected to cede treasured playing time, especially at home.
“To be honest, I don’t really mind it. Why I do mind is that I will be asked about it, probably every day. That’s what will get to me more than anything,” Luongo said to Jason Botchford of The Vancouver Province following Friday’s game.
Goaltending battle or not, the crease is beginning to become a crowded place for the Canucks.