NHL Playoffs 2012: Starting Roberto Luongo over Cory Schneider Is the Right Move
You might have heard that Vancouver has a bit of a goalie controversy.
Roberto Luongo had a record of 31-14-8 in the regular season, with a 2.41 GAA and a 0.919 save percentage.
Cory Schneider, on the other hand, went 20-8-1, with a 1.96 GAA and a 0.927 save percentage.
Schneider had three shutouts, and Luongo had five shutouts, including the season ending game against the Edmonton Oilers that clinched the Presidents' Trophy and a 1-0 game against the LA Kings.
Fans are in up in arms (not literally, that will come after the playoffs end) and the media is stirring up the controversy over the Canucks making Luongo the starter for Game 1 of the playoffs despite the lingering memories of last June.
Luongo was unfairly made into the goat for the playoff loss last spring.
I say unfairly, because most fans and media harp on his bad games in the Stanley Cup Finals and ignore his good games.
In all honesty, Luongo had some horrible games in the finals.
But he also took a team that only scored eight goals in the entire series to a Game 7.
When the Canucks won, it was due to Luongo's goaltending. They don't get to that Game 7 if Luongo doesn't stand on his head and win a pair of 1-0 games via shutout and a third game in overtime.
To put that into perspective, the Canucks only scored 1.14 goals per game in the finals.
During the dead puck era, classic trapping teams like the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars won Stanley Cups with defence first hockey that relied on excellent goaltending and winning one goal games.
The Stars scored 2.70 goals per game when they won the Stanley Cup in 1999.
The Devils scored 2.61 goals per game when they won the Stanley Cup in 2000, and 2.58 goals per game when they won again in 2003.
In other words, those classic trapping teams in the lowest scoring era in NHL history provided more than twice as much goal support for Martin Brodeur and Eddie Belfour as the Canucks did for Luongo.
The fact that Canucks even got to Game 7 is a testament to how brilliant Luongo was in those three wins.
It should have been a much shorter series in the Bruins favor once the Canucks' vaunted offence dried up. And, they didn't score ANY goals in Game 7, so Luongo had zero chance to win that one.
So blaming Luongo as the scapegoat for the Stanley Cup Finals is the simplistic approach, but really means that he was expected to pitch four perfect games and only managed to provide three.
Starting Luongo for Game 1 of the first-round series against the Kings makes perfect sense—at least if you think logically, which is sometimes hard to do around a polarizing figure like Luongo.
Who do you think should be the starter?
First, Luongo was excellent beyond words in series openers last spring. He won the first game in all four playoff series and pitched a shutout in three of them. If you go back further, Luongo hasn't lost a series opener in years.
So, going with him makes perfect sense in the early going. Whether it is due to the other team making adjustments, fatigue or other reasons, Luongo's bad games always cropped up in the mid and late parts of series, not in the early going.
Second, he is the starter. Luongo is the veteran, he got the lion's share of the regular season starts, and he makes the most money. Every tradition in sports dictates that he get the start.
Now the Canucks, under Mike Gillis, haven't been afraid to buck tradition, but think about the scenario if Luongo is embarrassed by sitting on the bench to start Game 1 in his hometown.
That could totally backfire and kill Luongo's confidence if the Canucks need to put him in later in the series, robbing the team of a potential momentum changing move if they need one deep into a series.
Schneider on the other hand is the backup. He accepts it and doesn't complain. Every step through his career Schneider has paid his dues without complaining, and he knows this is the last year he'll have to accept a backup role.
If the Canucks need to put in Schneider, everyone has confidence in him, and it can be a momentum changer.
Third, Luongo has a winning history against the Kings.
He was the winning goalie when the Canucks took apart the Kings in that 2010 playoff series, and he was in net for all four games during the regular season this year, going 2-1-1 including the aforementioned shutout.
Fourth, and most importantly—why invite more controversy? If the Canucks started Schneider, that just pours more fuel on the fire and is a distraction for a team trying to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Canucks have two extremely good goaltenders, so Luongo will be a on short leash if he has one of his bad games or lets in a couple soft goals.
But the Canucks made the correct decision, as there isn't a compelling reason not to give Luongo the starting role for Game 1.
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