Roberto Luongo met with the media after Monday’s practice and everyone was eager to hear what he would have to say about Cory Schneider starting his sixth straight game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Luongo was unexpectedly poised and prepared, as he has frequently misspoken or said things in interviews that can be misinterpreted in the past. This time, Luongo wisely steered clear of any attempts at jokes and stuck with sincerity.
“The guy’s been working hard for two years and never said a word,” said Luongo, “so he deserves every minute that he’s getting right now and I’m one hundred percent behind him. He’s been behind me since the start and there’s no reason why I wouldn’t be behind him one hundred percent.”
If Schneider continues to play the way he has over his last four starts, Luongo might end up behind him for a while. Oddly enough, that doesn’t mean that he’s no longer the Canucks’ number one goaltender.
While that may sound strange, let us consider a couple things: first, the hot streak that Schneider is on right now is fantastic, but it’s also not sustainable. During this four-game streak, he’s stopped 117 out of 120 shots, and as Cam Charron pointed out at Nucks Misconduct, “you don’t need a numerical expert to tell you that making 117 out of 120 saves is a lot.”
But this is a streak, nothing more. Schneider is a superb goaltender who deserves to start every game while he continues this hot streak, but over the long haul, Luongo is better. The reason Luongo is considered to be one of the best goaltenders in the NHL is his consistency. Some Canucks fans may rankle at a description of Luongo as “consistent,” but I don’t mean from game-to-game. Quite frankly, no goaltender is perfectly consistent from game-to-game. But the best goaltenders in the league are consistent season-to-season.
Since his rookie season, Luongo hasn’t seen his save percentage dip below .900 nor has his goals against average gone over 3.00. In that time, his worst ever save percentage and goals against average were .913 and 2.97 respectively. The save percentage came in 2009-10, when he still managed to win 40 games, and the goals against average came in his final year with the Panthers.
Why is that important? Because his current .896 save percentage simply will not continue. Luongo is too consistent a goaltender for that to happen. And his goals against average of 2.97 will come down, because the 2011-12 Vancouver Canucks are not the 2005-06 Florida Panthers. At some point this season, Luongo will go on a streak similar to Schneider’s and people will say that he’s redeeming himself or rising to the challenge posed by Schneider, when really he’ll just be playing as good as he always has.
The second point comes courtesy of Beantown Canuck: Schneider’s record in November is 4-2, with a .933 save percentage. Luongo’s record is an identical 4-2, with a .925 save percentage. So how much of the goaltending controversy is just because Schneider’s 4 wins this month all came in a row?
I remember a number of fans panicking when Schneider’s first start after Luongo’s injury was a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks where he looked remarkably shaky on a couple ugly goals. The big concern then was how long Luongo would be out, because it suddenly looked like Schneider wasn’t ready. 10 days later and some are suggesting that Schneider is ready to take the reins and Luongo should be shipped out of town. Maybe, just maybe, we should allow a little time and perspective to take the reins instead.
I hate to bring up Tim Thomas, but the season before he set the NHL record for highest save percentage, won the Vezina Trophy, and led the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup, he lost his starting job to his young, hotshot backup, Tuukka Rask. Last season he started only 57 games in the regular season. The only season in which Luongo has started fewer than 60 games was when he was injured in 2008-09. He still started 54 games.
Schneider getting more starts isn’t a bad thing for Luongo and it doesn’t mean that Luongo is no longer the Canucks number one goaltender. It just means that he will get fewer starts this season and be even more well-rested going into the playoffs than last year. Schneider’s hot streak will end, he’ll put up a couple more games like his loss to the Blackhawks, and some will wonder how we ever thought that Schneider could be the Canucks’ number one goaltender. Then someone will bank the puck off Luongo’s back and in from behind the goal line and those same people will be clamouring for Schneider to start every game.
Can we please, please have a little perspective? Is that too much to ask?
Tags: Cory Schneider, featured, Luongo, Roberto Luongo, schneider