The Vancouver Canucks face two difficult issues heading into their opening round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. They have little control over the health of Daniel Sedin, who will miss the opener. The other issue is a decision that will dictate Alain Vigneault's coaching legacy: selecting a starter in goal.
Over the last quarter of the season, Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo are statistically tied in minutes played. Other than that, Schneider has a distinct lead on Luongo. He has a better win percentage (.667 vs. .596), goals against average and save percent (totals below).
What Luongo has is experience. He's been with the Canucks for six of his 12 seasons. He had 54 starts this season, his lowest since becoming the full-time keeper for the Florida Panthers in 2001. This was down from 60 starts last season and 67 the year prior.
Not all of Luongo's experience is positive. He started every game in the postseason since coming to Vancouver except one afforded to Schneider last season. He was also replaced in two meltdown performances in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The dilemma facing Vigneault is that Luongo was signed to be their franchise goalie. Prior to the 2009 season, he signed a 12-year, $64 million contract. Schneider is in the second and final season of his $1.8 million deal.
The Canucks need to decide on their direction for goalie. Schneider, their 2004 first-round draft pick, appears ready to take over, but they are facing tough a decision. They need to know if Schneider can handle playoff games before they attempt to re-sign him to a big contract.
Playoff performance has been a bit of a concern with Luongo. Yes, the Canucks did make the Stanley Cup Finals last season. However, while Luongo was solid against Nashville in the second round, he let the Chicago Blackhawks get back in their first-round series.
Holding a 3-0 advantage, Luongo allowed six goals in 45 minutes of play in Game 4. He was even worse in Game 5, allowing a fourth goal at the start of the second period before being replaced. Schneider started Game 6 but had to leave due to injury late in the third period; Luongo surrendered an overtime goal to tie the series 3-3.
Canucks fans don't likely need, or want, to be reminded what happened after they took a 2-0 lead to Boston during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. He gave up 12 goals over five periods and the series was tied 2-2.
In a sport where this one position can have a huge impact, consistency is the key. That has not been Luongo's forte in the playoffs and could very well be what keeps the Canucks from returning Lord Stanley's Cup to Canada.
Schneider is the future at goalkeeper, or at least should be, and the future starts with the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.