Start Eddie Lack against the Oilers on Friday

It has been difficult to evaluate the Canucks goaltenders this season. Up until this month, Roberto Luongo had a rather mediocre save percentage, but had held opponents to two or fewer goals in 12 of his last 15 starts. Eddie Lack? Same story, keeping pace with Luongo’s save percentage and allowing more than two goals in just one start, the first of his career.

There was nothing difficult about evaluating Lack on Monday night, however. He was fantastic, making 31 saves against the Carolina Hurricanes for the first shutout of his career, in what was also the first home start of his career.

Lack’s shutout had some Canucks fans joking on Twitter about a new goaltending controversy in Vancouver. Please. We have no interest in being involved in the birth of another one of those debacles.

But seriously, Lack should get the start in the Canucks next game.

Of course, any serious talk of a goaltending controversy isn’t just premature, but patently ridiculous. There’s a distinct difference between what’s expected from a first round pick and an undrafted free agent and Lack is just 6 starts into his NHL career. While I sincerely doubt anyone seriously wants to anoint Lack the new number one goaltender, I wanted to head off that nonsense at the pass while still suggesting that Lack get the first consecutive starts of his NHL career.

After three games in four nights, the Canucks have a three-day break before back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. With that much time to rest, the argument could be made that Luongo should get both starts. After all, he is the number one goaltender and has started more than four times as many games as Lack this season.

All the evidence suggests, however, that it’s a truly terrible idea for a goaltender to start two games in two nights. Goalies playing on consecutive nights statistically have a save percentage 10-20 points lower on the second night. Taking data from 2011-2013, Eric Tulsky at Broad Street Hockey found that goaltenders averaged a .912 save percentage in the first game of back-to-backs, but fell to a .901 save percentage in the second game.

Tulsky also found that rested goalies averaged a .912 save percentage on the second night of back-to-backs, meaning the difference isn’t due to playing behind a tired team but is an issue particular to the goaltenders. Add in the greater risk of strain and injury when playing on back-t0-back nights and you have pretty clear evidence that goaltenders should split those starts.

The question, then, is which game should each goaltender start. The backup goaltender generally gets the second night of back-to-backs, for whatever reason, but it makes far more sense for Lack to get the first night this time around.

There are couple reasons why : it’s nice to reward a goaltender who just got a shutout with the next start, for instance. Also, the Friday game is against the Edmonton Oilers, who are last in the Western Conference so, theoretically, should be the easier start.

More important than the Canucks’ Friday opponent, however, is their Saturday opponent: the Boston Bruins.

Luongo hasn’t had an opportunity to face the Bruins since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, with Cory Schneider getting the start in his hometown of Boston back in 2012. To miss another chance at a re-match to a backup goaltender just wouldn’t be right, even if it is the second night of back-to-back games.

Instead, give Lack the consecutive starts and send a well-rested Luongo out to face the Bruins on Saturday.

14 comments

  1. the olde coot
    December 11, 2013

    A little fact that you ignore:
    The Bruins have not seen Lack before.
    And why would one risk losing two?
    Against the Oil it’s Bobby Lu!

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  2. Chris the Curmudgeon
    December 11, 2013

    It’s as though people think it’s just standard for a backup goaltender to play poorly and for the team to write off the games he starts, and if he plays well then he should be starting. Maybe it’s a residual effect from years of trauma due to substandard goaltending, or because casual fans don’t realize that Cory Schneider didn’t just come out of nowhere (the man was Canucks property for 9 years) and that a true, high-end 60+ game starter doesn’t just fall from a tree. Just because Eddie Lack looks better than Martin Brochu doesn’t mean he should be considered a threat to Luongo’s starting job.

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  3. Tengeresz
    December 11, 2013

    Your article focuses on personnel management questions, which are all about motivation and emotion. Valid concerns.

    From a purely results oriented view. The choice comes down to what is the best chance to get the most points. In this case the question is: can Lu beat Boston and the Stork beat the bottom feeders. If you have a high degree of confidence in BOTH those outcomes, you go for the big four points. If there is doubt in EITHER outcome the safer bet is to start your best against the weaker team and ensure the two points, then play conservatively in the tougher game and hope for a bonus win (or OTL).

    I think Torts is a win everything kind of guy. I also think Lack had a great game and it is good to ride the hot hand into the next game, so I expect him to start. But if this was a game against a western team in playoff contention it would be more valuable to ensure their loss and our Divisional win.

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    • Kenji
      December 11, 2013

      The question might also be: is Boston in Luongo’s head? If so, is he indeed the safer bet?

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  4. J21
    December 11, 2013

    In a comment on Canucks’ Army yesterday, I called for this exact thing — Läck against Edmonton and Luongo against Boston, but predicted it won’t happen.

    One of the unwritten rules appears to be “don’t have your backup start twice in a row, otherwise you have created a goaltender controversy.” This is nonsense, of course, but in the absence of injury, how often has any team with an established starter given the backup two straight starts? It’s rare. Lord knows Marc Crawford wouldn’t do it even when Johan Hedberg had an outstanding game, lest the on-ice performance disrupt his goaltending narrative.

    And you can’t not have Luongo play against Boston, otherwise the media picks that up and runs with it, just as they did in 2012.

    So even though the above is clearly the best thing to do (Läck against Edmonton, Luongo against Boston), I’m willing to make a non-monetary wager that Torts plays Luongo in both. And for the statistic reasons mentioned, this is a bad idea.

    There is also the possibility that the team really lays an egg against Edmonton by looking past that game, so it might be a good test to see if Läck is the type of guy who can bail out the team on an off-night.

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    • peanutflower
      December 11, 2013

      True about looking past the game. It’s a distinct possibility. Luongo would be more inclined to do that, and in combination with the rest of the team shrugging off the Oilers the outcome could be disastrous. Lack is the better choice against Edmonton mostly because it’s unlikely at this point he would look past ANY game. At least, one would hope he wouldn’t. Every game should be the most important game he’s played in the NHL.

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    • jrc
      December 11, 2013

      I applaud your umlauts. Of course, your arguments are interesting, too, and I give them a thumbs-up, but really, it’s about the umlauts.

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  5. Brent
    December 11, 2013

    Luongo wants Boston bad. Lack against Oilers, Luongo against Boston. It is a no brainer.

    Saying that, who knows what Torts will do, possibly with input from Gilles et al. as J21 is likely right.

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  6. akidd
    December 11, 2013

    i just don’t think that torts can start lack back-to-back. what if lack plays well, wins and lou has a sub-par game vs boston and loses. not good. the wolves will start clearing their throats. somehow the canucks have managed to put out the goaltender controversy flames this year. not sure what memos were circulated and to whom but lou is not the headline anymore. instantly. the result (or coincidence) is that lou has looked really solid so far this year. not worried about save % as the canucks weren’t giving up many shots but giving up some good chances. no point messing with a comeback season for lou by riding the hot hand of whoever got a shutout or win etc. the hot hand riding didn’t work out too well for AV in the end.

    i do think though that lack could be the goalie of the future for the canucks. i don’t believe that Lou is planning on a long-term stay with the canucks. he just hasn’t said the right things. i think that this year is about lou re-establishing himself as an elite goalie. about him taking canada to the gold and then either getting traded a couple of weeks later or in the summer. i’m guessing they begged lou to come back with the promise that both he and the canucks would have to work hard this year to get him traded. caps going up. 5.5 mil per is looking better and better.

    that’s how i see it. so lou starts both games. no awakening the ‘backup goalie’ dragon for a couple of points. there’s much bigger picture stuff here at play. the whole season is probably a write-off in management’s mind. in that if they make the playoffs…fine but don’t expect mike to start spending assets to try to make this team truly competitive. that push will most likely start in earnest in a couple of years.

    so either lou starts both or lack gets the bruins, just ‘as scheduled’, in the second game of back-to-backs.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      December 11, 2013

      “what if lack plays well, wins and lou has a sub-par game vs boston and loses.”

      Who cares? Seriously, who will care if Lack plays well and Luongo doesn’t in these two games? Lack isn’t a threat to Luongo’s number one job, at least not this season, so who cares if Lack plays consecutive games? In this case, it isn’t even that Lack would be starting over Luongo, it would be giving the number one goaltender the more difficult opponent.

      Seriously, I can’t make any sense out of what you’re saying here.

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      • akidd
        December 11, 2013

        i know what you’re saying, daniel. and in a perfect world i’d agree. it’s basic strategy. start your backup, coming off a shutout nonetheless, against the weaker team and your starter the next night against the big boys. a no brainer, really.

        I’m just thinking big picture and how important for everyone it is not to give the goalie conversation even a whiff of fuel. things are going great now in that department. lou looks great. that once-ubiquiotous “who’s starting’ line has pretty much vanished around town. ‘tending’ has been replaced by ‘scoring’ in the conversation. that gets old quick too but at least it’s a different tune.

        maybe you’re right and i’m overblowing the importance of two mid-season games. there’s just been such a din for so many years, the recent peace and quiet is really pleasant.

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  7. JDM
    December 11, 2013

    It’s not a basic strategy at all and generally isn’t really a very good one. I feel like Canucksarmy did a post on this and came to the same conclusion as Tengeresz, above – your better goalie should always go up against the weaker opponent to do everything possible to ensure that you get those two points. In this case the presence of the rivalry Saturday night game, as well as the fact that the Canucks should really beat the Oilers regardless of who’s in their net, add a bit of a wrinkle. But I still say Luongo vs. Oilers, Lack on HNIC.

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    • akidd
      December 11, 2013

      well, that’s another strategy, i suppose. go for the a sure two points. but is it that sure? a goalie might relax in that situation. i thought if you were a competitive team that you tried to win every game. so using your no.1 against the better team is probably the plan(was it only AV that tried to win ‘em all?)if you don’t think you can beat the better team with your no.1 then by all means do your best to scavenge a couple points off the weaker team.

      just talking general strategy. personally, i think it would be a lot of fun to see lack on HNIC. and since i’ve yet to see him let in a lot of pucks i’ve no reason to believe that he would be a drop-off from lou. and i wouldn’t be overly shocked if lou melted down vs the bruins. (nor would i be if he were lights out.)

      you see. it’s started. all aboard for the lack train!

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  8. tom selleck's moustache
    December 11, 2013

    Interesting article; I’d be interested in finding out what Luongo’s own numbers look, when comparing his save percentage in his second of back-to-backs vs his career average.

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