With just two games left in the regular season, the Vancouver Canucks are in terrific position heading into the NHL's Playoffs. The team currently sits first in the NHL's Western Conference and tied for first overall. Having a more favorable schedule than both the St. Louis Blues and the New York Rangers (the other two teams with a shot at first overall), means the Canucks' chances of winning a second straight President's Trophy are very good.
The Canucks have won seven straight and are getting scoring from a variety of sources. Chris Higgins in particular has pitched in offensively of late with five goals in his last six games. Max Lapierre, who served as a staple of the Canucks' fourth line, was suddenly promoted to the top line in the absence of injured Daniel Sedin. Lapierre has shown an offensive ability that is surprising to many and encouraging to all. Lapierre's three goals and three assists in his last six games are proof that the Canucks have the scoring depth necessary for a long playoff run.
The Canucks, however, are not without their question marks heading into the playoffs. The lack of offensive production from Ryan Kesler is a concern, as is the health of Daniel Sedin. It is safe to say that if the Canucks are to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup this year, both Daniel and Kesler, the Canucks' top goal scorers last season, will have to play like top goal scorers.
The biggest issue currently facing the Canucks is not Kesler's production or Daniel Sedin's health or any issue other than goaltending. Vancouver is in the unique position of having a fully capable starter in Roberto Luongo, a goalie that took the team all the way to Game 7 of last year's Stanley Cup Finals, and also having one of the top goalies in the NHL as a backup.
Cory Schneider has incredible stats: a 1.93 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. What's more impressive is the fact that Schneider's stats do not lie; he has played as well or better than his stats would indicate. Unlike Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues, whose stats are incredibly impressive because of the defensive system their team has implemented, Schneider's stats are impressive simply because he personally has been that impressive.
Schneider's numbers are better than Luongo's, and more importantly, his play inspires more confidence in his teammates than does Luongo's.That's why I think the Canucks should start the playoffs with Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo, in net.
Take last night's game against the Anaheim Ducks as an example. Luongo let in four goals on only 15 shots. That was a game in which the Canucks as a team were sloppy and lucky to come away with two points. It was also a game in which the team played much better in front of Schneider than they did in front of Luongo.
In many respects, the team left Luongo out to dry and he was the one who shouldered the blame. But in other respects, the Canucks played better when Cory Schneider was in net because of something Schneider possesses that Luongo seems to lack: poise. Even when Luongo plays well, his style is frenetic and reactionary. Schneider, on the other hand, plays with a calm that seems to run through the entire team.
This isn't a knee-jerk reaction to Luongo's poor play against the Anaheim Ducks. This is based on the play of Schneider over the past two seasons, over which time he has quietly developed into one of the league's best goalies.
For those that support Luongo, they will point to Schneider's inexperience in the playoffs and ignore the big games he has played this season for the Canucks (most notably the January 7 win in Boston against the Bruins). They will want Luongo to be the starter in the playoffs and in all likelihood, they'll get their wish.
I'd be very surprised if Roberto Luongo weren't in net for the Canucks to start the playoffs. I wouldn't be at all surprised, however, if Schneider is the goalie on whom the Canucks rely when their season is truly on the line.
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