How will the 2014 Olympics affect Roberto Luongo’s performance for the Canucks?

Now that it seems safe to say that Roberto Luongo will be showing up at training camp next season — wait, it is safe to say now, right? Did I just invoke some sort of jinx that will keep this nonsense going for another few months? — we can start to look at what that season will look like.

Some have suggested that the only reason Luongo will return to the Canucks next season is because he wants the starting job for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. While Luongo has the edge for the number one role after winning gold at the 2010 Olympics, his inconsistent performance during the turbulent 2013 season means his position isn’t all that secure. In order to cement his spot, he’ll need to perform well during the first couple months of the 2013-14 season and, in order to perform well, he’ll need to have a team to perform for.

All of this has Canucks fans excited about the prospect of a motivated Luongo, eager to prove he’s ready to repeat with Team Canada. It also has some other fans worried about how the extra workload will affect his performance after the Olympics. Looking back at 2010, there appears to be some cause for concern.

During the 2009-10 season, Martin Brodeur was the de facto starter for Team Canada, with Luongo needing an outstanding start to the season in order to earn the nod. How did that extra motivation work out in 2010? It didn’t. Luongo put up a .919 save percentage leading up the Olympics, right in line with his career average. He had his usual October struggles, going 6-6-0 with a .902 save percentage. He didn’t perform any better than normal and, while his normal is still very good, it wasn’t good enough to get the nod over Brodeur to start the Olympics.

Luongo did get the first start for Team Canada, it was a preliminary round game against Norway, with Brodeur getting starts against Switzerland and Team USA. Fortunately for Luongo, Brodeur was terrible, giving up 2 goals to Switzerland and 4 to the United States on just 22 shots. Luongo stepped in and was significantly better, posting a .927 save percentage  and allowing just 9 goals against in 5 starts, winning three straight elimination games.

After the emotion of the Olympics and a gold medal win, a slight letdown might be expected. The one that Luongo had, however, was alarming.

Several goalies took a step back post-Olympics, with Luongo’s one of the worst. He went from a .919 save percentage pre-Olympics to an .894 save percentage, including the playoffs, after the Olympics, the lowest of any Olympic goaltender. The only goaltender with a worse drop was Tomas Vokoun, who went from a .931 save percentage pre-Olympics down to an .896 save percentage post-Olympics.

Luongo’s .895 save percentage in 12 games in the 2010 playoffs is the second worst playoff save percentage of his career, with only his .891 save percentage in the 2012 playoffs being worse. Thing is, he only played in 2 games in the 2012 playoffs, making it too small a sample size to really be worthwhile.

So, after winning gold in 2010, Luongo played some of the worst hockey of his career through the rest of the season and playoffs for the Canucks. That has to be a major concern, particularly considering his backup will be either Eddie Lack or Joacim Eriksson, neither of whom has played a single NHL game. Luongo’s going to play a lot of games for the Canucks and there’s little to no safety net it he falters.

It’s interesting to note, however, that one of the other goaltenders who saw a major drop in save percentage post-Olympics was Miikka Kiprusoff, who backstopped Finland to a bronze medal in 2010. The two goaltenders that lost to Luongo and Kiprusoff in the medal games performed far better than them post-Olympics. Ryan Miller saw only a minor drop in save percentage after the Olympics, while Jaroslav Halak, who was in net for Slovakia, was one of the few goaltenders whose save percentage actually improved.

Perhaps, then, the best case scenario for Canucks fans is that Luongo takes Team Canada to the gold medal final and then loses, ensuring a silver for Canada and lighting a fire under Luongo for the remainder of the season and playoffs to prove himself.

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5 comments

  1. Doop
    August 5, 2013

    I haven’t read the article yet, I just wanted to comment that I’ve never seen Luongo look so sincerely happy as he is in that picture. Look at that winning smile. He’s adorable dude.

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  2. Cal
    August 5, 2013

    I can’t agree more. Silver medal it up… No wait. Ahh I’m not supposed to buy into that national propaganda crap but I kind of want a gold more than a cup–must—not–give–in–Go Canucks Go blahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

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  3. Zach Morris
    August 5, 2013

    Anecdotally, I don’t think Luongo was terribly inconsistent.

    I remember Vigneault keeping him in net too long two or three times, but he and Schneider took turns stealing games for a good part of the season.

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  4. the olde coot
    August 7, 2013

    The simple facts are Bobby Lu
    Will stop a lot let in a few
    Piss people off who long ago
    Claimed he and Gillis have to go
    But after all is said and done
    He’ll prove a worthy number one.

    The Olde Coot

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  5. Smokey
    August 12, 2013

    C’mon that ain’t fair, we could have taken Chicago in 2010 if half our defence hadn’t gotten hurt, I mean O’Brien was probably our best blueliner that series, for real. What is Luongo supposed to do in those circumstances? If we could have just gotten past the Hawks we would have had it, too!

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