Alain Vigneault rides the point thief as Luongo gets third straight start

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.

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23 comments

  1. Daniel Cohen
    February 1, 2013

    the editing bastard strikes again, we play chicago tonight, not calgary

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 1, 2013

      B’oh.

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      • Brent
        February 1, 2013

        Shouldn’t it be D’oh. And your picture should have you slapping your forehead, rather than the mystical far away searching gaze.

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      • @_twurtle
        February 1, 2013

        Also another little editing thing…the game is in Vancouver tonight…almost had me panicking thinking the game was at 5 tonight

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  2. Nee
    February 1, 2013

    Very nicely put, Mooney. I was wondering what the reasoning for the decision might be, and this seems very logical. This is the best explanation I’ve seen for why Luongo is starting tonight, rather than Schneider.

    You know, sometimes I think calling this a blog underrates yours and Wagner’s abilities as writers.

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    • madwag
      February 1, 2013

      “blackgawks”? flack knocks!

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      • Rituro
        February 1, 2013

        Hah, scrolled back and saw “Blackgawks”. UNINTENTIONALLY RACIST, Mooney. Poor form.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          February 1, 2013

          I fixed it. Shame on you, Harrison.

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    • Frank N
      February 1, 2013

      Yes, the reasoning is sound. Almost. Given that both goalies played well to win their first game, then posted a shut-out in their second start and that THEN Schneider got shelled, should Luongo really be in goal tonight? Only to be shelled as well? I think by that rationale they should go back to Schneider! ;-)

      I have no problem with Luongo playing. What I have a problem with is that Schneider has to find out by not having been informed either way before practice and than figuring it out. I would think that communication would be key in managing expectations within the locker room, especially in a situation like this. Yes, they both are professionals and they both act professionally, but it is still nice to be treated professionally!

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  3. chicken chick
    February 1, 2013

    The bottom line when’s said and done
    Luongo’s still our number one
    And seeing that no trade was made
    Schneider may well feel betrayed

    For once they said the role was his
    But now instead the way it is
    The coaches say the job they’ll share
    Nobody claims that life is fair

    His missing three starts in a row
    It’s sure that Cory has to know
    He’s backup goalie once again
    And for a while may so remain

    Although that seems so sad to some
    He also knows his chance will come
    And when it does he will look to
    Prove he’s better than Bobby Lu

    And so will go this showing up
    Until they share Lord Stanley’s Cup

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    • krazymunky
      February 1, 2013

      teach me how to write like all of you.

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      • jenny wren
        February 1, 2013

        you write me a line that ends in “a” (that’s the long “a” sound)
        while being sure to something say
        then another that ends in “b”
        mayhap a thing that i should see (either visually, or intellectually)
        the third line also ends in “a”
        it’s fun to carry on this way
        the fourth of course must end in “b”
        and fill your heart with subtle glee

        a new quatrain with other sounds
        expanding on your thoughts above
        leaping ahead in brilliant bounds
        developing what you’re writing of

        four lines produce another verse
        except that now it’s getting hard
        you’ll pout and mope and cry and curse
        ’til “rhymezone” saves the budding bard (google it!)

        with a couplet you now conclude
        with a conclusion well imbued

        (next lesson we’ll discuss rhythm and later on alliteration and onomatopoeia )

        cheers
        jenny wren

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    • TeeJay
      February 2, 2013

      And here is Luongo’s Theme right now:

      Its been a long, long road
      Since I packed up and left on my own
      And I carry a heavy load
      Just try n get back to her heart

      I sure aint got no home
      I seem to find love where I ramble
      And when its time to go
      I hear that voice again… sayn

      Chorus
      Find your way back…
      Find your way back to her heart
      Find your way back…
      Find your way back to her heart

      Leave a message with the rain
      You can find me where the wind blows
      The snow across the pain
      And the frost upon the heart

      (you got no place to be
      Still you wonder where youre goin)
      And why I had to leave
      I hear a voice… it says to me

      Repeat chorus

      I know its too late now
      But, I wish I could go back in time
      And start all over somehow
      And get it right from the start

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  4. betty
    February 1, 2013

    Enjoy your “Take”. NOT negative.Works for me. Some of the Media guys like to try and “Out do” each other with their “Macho-ness”, is that a word? Stirring the “Fan Pot” in Van. is NOT needed. I realize they are justifying their existence, but sometimes I grit my teeth. There! To sum up, keep doing what you do !

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  5. Brent
    February 1, 2013

    Lets hope he is a point thief tonight. Given the defensive lapses that have been occurring and the skills that Chicago has with their opportunistic offence, he is going to have to be at the top of his game.

    That being said, you know everyone is going to be totally pumped for this game, so this could be the turn around game. (the Colorado game doesn’t count as they suck). Burrows will continue to play great, lets hope that Higgins (and even the Sedine’s) pick it up offensively, and also, obviously, the defence, especially Edler. Let hope something closer to the potential superman shows up rather than Ultra Boy.

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    • J21 (@Jyrki21)
      February 1, 2013

      There is also the Duncan Keith angle. Let’s hope that no one does anything stupid, but they find a way — within the rules — to give it back to him a little.

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  6. Canucklehead_in_T.O.
    February 1, 2013

    AV looks funny in a T-shirt.

    (But good on the Canucks and the Canadian teams for, yet again, doing good work for a great cause. Love this team)

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  7. nick
    February 1, 2013

    I guess this makes sense. So Luongo plays until we run into a good team like SJ, or perhaps Chi tonight, that he can’t steal a win against, or he plays poorly. Then Schneider plays until the same, supposedly hoping he gets a run of Flames games or something before a match up against an elite team. The only thing is, don’t goalies all say they perform better the more they play? Aren’t the Canucks limiting that potential by switching so frequently? Maybe in a tight schedule it’ll work, but I can’t help but feel like Schneider got Leno’d (except in this version, Leno’s not a bit of a dick). I guess we’ll know for sure if AV tries to convince Schneider that #1s start in the 2nd period after a Luongo lead-in.

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  8. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    February 1, 2013

    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.

    I’m not saying there is a controversy, but in all fairness to those who are less at ease with the present situation: there is a pretty big qualitative difference between the backup getting hot for a spell (especially when the starter is injured) and really running with it for a while in place of a long-time starter, versus this happening in the first moments of a newly-annointed starter’s tenure.

    It’s not just the Canucks — anyone would get a bit nervous about the ramifications of a challenge to the brand-spanking-new no. 1 in any sport. Imagine Casey Printers’ emergence happening in the first month that Dave Dickinson was the BC Lions’ starter, for instance. That would have generated a lot (relatively) of press too.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 1, 2013

      I hear ya. But I think, considering Gillis’s comments to open this post, they’re less interested in the etiquette of the situation than in stealing as many points as they can while Kesler’s out.

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    • G. McRae
      February 1, 2013

      @Jyrki21: Those might be valid points, if the season was 82 games. There is no luxury to allow a goalie “to work things out” in a 48 games schedule with all the games against conference rivals. AV is riding the hot hand, plain and simple. I think the fans understand it, the media not so much (or they are trying to win viewers and readers by making a mountain out of molehill).

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  9. junk
    February 1, 2013

    I have no problem with whichever goalie starting. We have not just one, but two very good goalies who can steal a game for us on any given night. Other than St. Louis I don’t know if any other team has such strength in goaltending.

    To me it’s more of goalie “surplus” not “controversy”, yet the media keeps portraying the situation in negative light (especially those at team 1040). I say it’s only controversial if AV keeps giving one goalie starts over the other even though that one is struggling. People will say AV is biased, blinded, playing favorites and calling for his head (just like those who create a new thread with the subject over at CDC after every Canucks loss :-) ).

    Let’s just chill and enjoy what we have while we can.

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  10. TeeJay
    February 2, 2013

    Damn! I have to watch FRINGE Season Finale Episode again to get this right.

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