In an interview with the Vancouver Sun’s Cam Cole back in mid-January, Mike Gillis was candid about the state of his team early in 2013. “The way we were constituted to start this year,” Gillis said, referring to the absence of ice-tilters Ryan Kesler and David Booth, “We just needed to get through this first 2-3 weeks.”
In the same breath, Gillis added, “and neither of our goalies was particularly sharp in the first two games.”
That’s your Rosetta Stone to the Canucks’ current goaltending controversy. Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault know that, without a second line and without all-situation influencer Ryan Kesler, the team isn’t strong enough to win every game on merit and skill. But fortunately, they have two goaltenders capable of making up the difference.
Schneider and Luongo may not have shown it in that first weekend set, but they certainly have since, and when they have, they’ve stayed in goal. It really just makes sense. If someone is stealing you points during a time when you admittedly need points stolen, why would you turn around and start the other guy?
You wouldn’t, and Alain Vigneault hasn’t. Wondering why Luongo is getting his third straight start Friday versus Chicago? For the same reason Schneider got his third straight start Sunday in San Jose. Vigneault is riding the point thief.
Schneider wasn’t overly sharp in his second start versus Calgary, but he went into lockdown mode with the score tied in the third period and overtime. The Flames outshot the Canucks 18-8, but they couldn’t put anything past him, and the game went to a shootout, where the Canucks were able to eke out the win. Point thief mode achieved, Schneider started the next game as well, posting a shutout on the Anaheim Ducks. Giving him his third straight start versus San Jose was a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it wasn’t a no-loser. The magic wore off and Schneider got shelled for four goals. (Not that the loss was Schneider’s fault. It wasn’t. But he couldn’t steal the win.)
The following night, as he often does for back-to-backs, Vigneault turned to Roberto Luongo, who was, in a word, incredible. It was as though Luongo had inherited the point thief mantle. He stole the Canucks a point versus the Kings and came within a minute of stealing two. Just as it had been for Schneider, it was enough to earn him his second consecutive start. And, just like Schneider had in his follow-up, Luongo pitched a shutout.
Now Gillis has announced that Funny Bob will start his third straight versus the Blackhawks. Say, isn’t that familiar?
People are acting like, by announcing that Luongo would start, Vigneault was announcing a new number one. It was enough that he went for a little levity by flipping a coin before making the call in his presser yesterday:
I love that. After Vigneault says he won’t get into all the reasons for his decision, someone sheepishly asks, “Can you give us some of the reasons…?”
But the reasons are simple. Vigneault is playing the guy that’s getting the team points while they’re not at full-strength. Considering how crucial points are in this lockout-shortened season, you’d think fans wouldn’t object to the coach making his netminding decisions by the “points at all cost” mantra. But here were are.
One theory I’ve seen floated for the problems is that Vigneault is damaging the relationship between the Canucks and Schneider by not giving him the starter’s load of starts right now. Perhaps. But I doubt it. If Schneider’s going to get sour because he’s not getting every start he wants, well, he’s a more impatient, me-first, prima donna than we thought, which I doubt, and he’s learned nothing from backing up Luongo over the last few years.
Schneider knows full well that a string of starts for the backup doesn’t mean that you’ve officially supplanted the starter as the backup. Recall the run of six straight that he started in November of 2011, where Roberto Luongo went down with an injury, then returned, only to continue sitting out while Vigneault rode the hot hand. It was a controversy then too, but a look back at the first star in every one of those games (Ottawa, Colorado, Phoenix, San Jose, Columbus) should explain exactly why that happened. Schneider was on a roll. Vigneault opted not to trifle with it. When it ended versus Nashville, Luongo was back in goal for the following game.
People can continue pulling their hair out over Alain Vigneault’s goaltending decision, but frankly, there are worse problems than “the goaltending is playing too well to not play”. The Canucks have them elsewhere in their lineup, although many seem to have forgotten them in the wake of this latest controversy. Fortunately, the goaltending problem isn’t just distracting us from the other issues — it’s making up for them.Tags: Alain Vigneault, Cory Schneider, goaltending controversy, Roberto Luongo