The Young and the Rested

William Wilson January 20, 2013 0
Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider share a momentPhoto by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Yesterday’s meltdown in Vancouver has all the makings of a great drama.

The former #1 goaltender, pushed aside by management and the coaching staff to make room for the new guy, is suddenly thrown back into the spotlight. This time, however, the pressure is off. He owes the team nothing. Indifference is probably the best word to describe his current mindset.

He’s playing for himself.

Two things can be taken away from the Canucks 7-3 beatdown at the hands of the Ducks last night: 1) they need to work on their defensive zone coverage; and 2) they may want to rethink their plan to jettison Roberto Luongo.

We all know the story by now. Luongo is a regular season champ, but he cannot get the job done when it actually matters. In other words, he’s a post-season chump.

His struggles during last year’s post-season created an opening for backup Cory Schneider to steal the top job in town.

Convinced that Schneider is their guy, management spent the off-season trying to offload Luongo and his massive contract. In the process, they poisoned Luongo’s relationship with the team. Luongo publicly expressed his openness to play elsewhere and he appeared to accept the fact that his playing days in Vancouver are almost over.

Of course, things rarely workout as they’re planned. Schneider stunk in his debut as the Canucks’ #1 goaltender. Luongo was called upon to finish the game and while neither goalie looked spectacular, the edge definitely went to the veteran.

Now the Canucks are calling upon Luongo to start in tonight’s game against the young and dynamic Edmonton Oilers.

Enter the newest chapter in Vancouver’s ongoing goaltending controversy.

If the Canucks truly expect Schneider to assume the starter’s job, then it’s critical that they show some commitment and give him a crack at instant redemption. Instead, they’re giving Luongo a chance to take back the starter’s job.

There’s a problem with this scenario, however. Luongo no longer has any reason to show loyalty towards his team. He has no reason to play for them. The only person who’s been in his corner the entire time is Luongo himself.

Management and the coaching staff choose Schneider over Luongo, but now Luongo can choose spoil their fun.

The decision to favour Schneider over Luongo is odd in itself. Questions of character aside, Schneider doesn’t have a proven record. He’s a young backup and his stats reflect this fact.

It’s one thing to shine as a backup goaltender. It’s something entirely different to carry the weight of full-time duties. This is especially true on a team like Vancouver where fans rightly expect to see a competitive team every night and they have reasonable dreams of winning it all.

Backups aren’t expected to steal the show. There’s very little pressure placed on them. In fact, many fans expect a loss whenever the backup starts.

If a backup plays above expectations, he gets praise.

If a backup disappoints, he returns to the bench and quietly awaits his next start.

It’s only when the starter falters that there’s real controversy. Rightly or wrongly, Luongo has been blamed for the Canuck’s general inability to win when it actually matters.

Unfortunately, Schneider’s debut as the Canucks’ new #1 goaltender suggests he might not be ready for prime-time. There’s no denying he has the skill set to win. It’s the attitude of a winner that he appears to lack (right now at least). Luongo, for his part, has shown tremendous cool throughout the entire affair.

He displayed a sense of casualness in replacing Schneider last night. It didn’t bother him that the start went to Schneider. This decision will haunt management and the coaching staff, not him. He just came to play.

It’s important to remember that Luongo has played in 728 career games at the NHL level, recording 339 wins and 283 loses. Schneider, in contrast, has played 69 career games at the NHL level. He has a paltry 38 wins and 18 losses to his name in comparison.

The difference in experience is even clearer when you look at career playoff games played – the time when playing under pressure truly matters.

Luongo has played in 61 career playoff games (32 wins, 29 loses) whereas Schneider has played in only 8 career playoff games (1 win, 2 loses). Talk about counting your chickens before the eggs hatch. Experience is clearly on the veteran’s side.

As a Leafs fan, I cannot stress enough the fault of placing too much faith in a young goalie. James Reimer burst onto the scene and stole the show in Toronto two seasons ago. Now he plays backup to Ben Scrivens, who’s a glorified AHL starter in his own right.

None of this should be taken as a slight towards Canucks fans or even the players on the team. You cannot really blame Schneider for wanting to play.

Responsibility rests solely with management and the coaching staff. They’re the ones who hung Luongo out to dry. They’re the ones who soured the relationship between Luongo and the team.

They’re also the ones who may soon find themselves running back to Luongo, but he may not be eager to save their pride.

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