Before I go any further, let me be perfectly clear: there is no goaltending controversy, and there hasn’t been one all season. Roberto Luongo is the starting netminder, and Cory Schneider is his backup. That’s the way of life. When Luongo plays well, he’s supposed to, because he’s the number one, and when Schneider plays well, he’s supposed to as well, because it’s the backup’s job to give the starting goaltender a night off without also giving one to the opponent.
Schneider and Luongo have both been solid this season, as evidenced by the Canucks’ conference-leading goals allowed. Despite both goalies playing well, however, Cory Schneider is the only one exceeding expectations. Luongo is supposed to be good. In the past, he’s been so good it’s only underlined how questionable his backup is. This year, the Canucks have collected points in every game the backup has started, and, each time that Schneider blows away the low expectations of precedent, someone, somewhere, brings up the potential for a goaltending controversy.
It’s not going to happen. But there is another “C” word that I think might be settling into the heads of the two goaltenders: competition.
Luongo is an athlete who thrives on being the best. He wants to hear it and he wants to believe it. And while it doesn’t bother him when Cory Schneider plays well, I guarantee you it annoys the Hell out of him when people suggest Frecklesnoot, not Bobby Lou, is the best goaltender in Vancouver. Luongo’s icetime isn’t what’s threatened; it’s the perception that he deserves it. You could see evidence of this in Jason Botchford’s recap of last night’s victory over the Avalanche:
Roberto Luongo was defiant, and only half kidding, when he turned to a reporter after being the difference in Sunday’s 2-1 win and said: “Is that a good enough response?”
He was referencing a specific pregame question about having a tough act to follow after Cory Schneider’s 44-save effort Friday. But he could have been addressing all of his critics. It was some “how do you like me now?” attitude, and you know what? He’s earned it, and so have the Canucks.
In Luongo’s four years in the city, he’s never had competition. With no trust in previous backups, the Canucks have played Luongo to exhaustion.
But this year is different. When his son was born in Florida, the only one who felt he needed to hurry back to the team was Luongo. And, as much as Luongo might have been run ragged trying to meet the needs of a team that desperately needed him in the past, I’m sure the realization that was no longer the case was a bit of a culture shock for him. Good.
Stop fretting about controversy, and start getting excited about competition. Luongo knows that fans and media are talking, and while there’s really no risk of being supplanted as the number one goalie in the Canucks dressing room, he does run the risk of being supplanted in the minds of onlookers. Luongo celebrated his gold medal as validation he was a winner; he wears the number 1 because he believes that he is. For a goalie that believes he’s the best, this competition won’t fly.
It may well drive him to higher heights. We saw it last night. Here’s hoping we see it more often.Tags: Canucks, competition, Cory Schneider, Frecklesnoot, Goaltending, Luongo