When Marc-Andre Fleury won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, he played every single playoff game as well as nine out of the 10 regular season games preceding the playoffs. When Tim Thomas won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011, he played every single playoff game as well as seven out of the 10 regular season games preceding the playoffs. That is the typical situation – a team’s playoff goalie will play most of the games before the playoffs as well as the majority, if not all, of the playoff games.
Then there are the Vancouver Canucks, who are far from typical. Their goaltending choices continue to reflect that, as Roberto Luongo, their “starting” goalie has played five of the past 10 games, with only three games remaining in the regular season.
There is no guarantee that Luongo will be the starting goalie for the playoffs – or for the next three games – and there is even a possibility of the 11-year veteran and Cory Schneider sharing that role. But neither is dwelling on that as the team continues to fight for first place in the league.
Schneider is not even thinking about playing in the playoffs ahead of Luongo.
“Not at all. I think Lou and I are so beyond that,” he told National Post. “We both respect the heck out of each other and we just root each other on and whoever is in net, we have a good feeling they are going to win.
“I think clearly he’s the guy that’s going to start and if it’s necessary for me to hop in at some point, so be it.”
Schneider has done nothing but improve. He keeps getting better, posting a .937 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average – stronger numbers that Luongo. He has already played in six more games then he did last year and has three shutouts compared to his one from last year – with his most recent being a 1-0 win over Colorado. When the Canucks have struggled to score, the goalies have stepped up to help them win.
There is no doubt that Schneider can play in the playoffs, as he is consistent and dependable both mentally and physically. Schneider constantly puts his team’s best interests at heart (just watch his interview on CBC After Hours on Saturday); his humble personality and professionalism prove one thing – he wants to win.
While Luongo’s statistics are not quite the same as last season, he has been fairly consistent, just recently rebounding from a few bad games to post his fourth shutout of the year. He has posted four shutouts each season for the past three years.
“A true professional tries to limit the amount of drops in his game and tries to be consistent,” coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Sun. “In Roberto’s case, I do think he’s been very consistent this year. Obviously, he gets off to his October starts. But other than that little blip [this month], he has been solid as a rock.”
As Schneider has played a career-high in games this season, Luongo has played less, appearing in 53 games so far, compared to the 60 he played in 2010-11. He has a save percentage of .920 and a goals against average of 2.40.
Additionally, a pattern in his playoff statistics predicts that he could be very good in the playoffs this year. Luongo was his best in the playoffs in 2007, but dropped off in 2009 and 2010. Then, in 2011, he returned to the same statistics he had in 2009, a save percentage of .914 and a goals against average of approximately 2.56. This season, if he continues to play well in the playoffs, he could complete the pattern, with a higher save percentage and a lower goals against average.
The Canucks are ready to rest him before the playoffs and prevent any injuries. On Friday, Luongo had a stiff neck and he did not play. His reflection on the decision to play Schneider shows that his mentality has matured and grown stronger over the year.
“If this was a few years ago I would have been stubborn and tried to play,” Luongo told the Calgary Herald. “But I thought about the team and the fact we have a guy who can step in, obviously, and do a great job for us.”
Maybe all those shootouts the Canucks have endured were good for the goalies. There is a lot of pressure put on them to perform in those situations, and it is good practice for them both physically and mentally.
“The mind is a powerful thing…that’s what goaltending is all about – it’s all about the mental thing,” Luongo told the Vancouver Sun. “We all have talent, we have skill to play in this league. But the mental grind night in and night out to be at the top of your game and have that focus and concentration, over the course of the year it’s not always going to be there.”
But as Vigneault mentioned, Luongo has been consistent this year, able to rebound from those bad spells. Along with Schneider, the Canucks have two goalies ready and able to play in the playoffs.
So who will it be in net? No one knows – Vigneault might not even know. Even Luongo said, “You never know what could happen.”
But that’s what makes the game of hockey so amazing anyways – unpredictability. Lets just try to embrace it a little bit more.