If how much the Canucks depend on their number one netminder, Roberto Luongo, to help them win games wasn’t evident enough, it has become pretty obvious over the past few weeks. Without the 6 foot 3, 205 pound goaltender, the Canucks have only been able to muster up three wins in the past eight games.
This losing trend is very uncharacteristic of a Canucks squad that had won seven of nine games before Luongo had to take some time off to heal his groin injury. The Canucks had looked like a team that was brimming with confidence and could not be stopped offensively.
The Canucks skaters, on a consistent basis, have referred to the peace of mind Luongo provides the team in offering a strong presence in net, as one of the prime reasons the rest of the team is allowed to take riskier offensive chances. The star netminder also has a reputation of coming up big during nerve-racking moments of the game that would usually have any other goaltender yelling out ‘uncle!’
So it isn’t a surprise that ever since Luongo has been out for the Canucks, the Vancouver hockey club has appeared to be a different team all together.
In comparing the Canucks with Luongo in net, to the team that is currently without the Montreal native, the most obvious and noticeable difference in the team is the lack of talent in net. Curtis Sanford, as Luongo’s official back-up, has stepped in on occasion throughout the regular season and has been fairly dependable in performing his duties in the goaltender position. However, Sanford is an aged goaltender that doesn’t have the charisma or the endurance to help the Canucks win night after night during Luongo’s absence.
The other option lies in the glove of rookie goaltender Corey Schneider. A leader and dependable goalie on the Canucks’ AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, Schneider will someday be a force to be reckoned with in the NHL; but not this season. Schneider has a lot of mental growing to do and seems to lack some confidence at a professional level, as he looked shaky in some of his starts. He does not compare to the talent Luongo provides the Canucks in net.
However, only a minute group of elite goaltenders in the league can really be compared to Luongo’s standards nowadays. So it’s not as though the only finger should be pointed at a near retired goaltender and his red-head sidekick, who only has a couple of games under his belt.
Fingers should also be pointed at the veteran players that have the “A”s marked on their jerseys signifying their talent and leadership on the team. Ryan Kesler, for example, has allowed his offensive output to diminish significantly, and Ohlund and Mitchell have the capabilities to perform better, as was seen earlier in the season.
It is also the other players on the Canucks bench that have been looking shaky on the ice, resulting in tallies in the loss column. Alexander Edler’s play has been suffering as of late, as in one instance he provided a plain giveaway to Curtis Glencross of the Calgary Flames to score the late game-winner during one of the losses the Canucks suffered without Luongo. Wellwood and Raymond have also looked like they have forgone a decrease in confidence, while the Sedin twins look like they need a constant reminder to stop cycling and shoot at the net.
This lack of confidence depicted by the Canucks team draws back to one missing piece of the puzzle: the reassurance provided by proven goaltender on the ice.
Having a goalie that encourages you to take offensive chances because he is capable of stopping almost all the scoring opportunities that come the opposite way provides a team the confidence required to win. Forwards’ defensive responsibilities become less of a burden and the defensemen can pinch into a scoring play at times. The team as a whole focuses more on offense and plays a better game when a talented goalie has their backs.
This was more than apparent when watching the Canucks when Luongo was in net. The passes were crisper, the hits were harder, and the wins were a plenty. In order to get the team that they once were this season, the Canucks need Luongo back. There is no other way that they will make the play-offs and have a legitimate chance at winning the cup.