Who's Team Canada's Best Bet as Olympic Goalie: Roberto Luongo or Carey Price?

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Who's Team Canada's Best Bet as Olympic Goalie: Roberto Luongo or Carey Price?
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Coach Mike Babcock is an avid runner, so perhaps he'll use his club's day off Saturday to take a brisk twirl around Sochi in an effort to clear his mind and contemplate a decision that could have major ramifications for Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Who should Babcock go with as his starting goaltender against Finland on Sunday in a game that will decide Group C and which team earns a bye into the quarterfinals—Roberto Luongo or Carey Price?

It wouldn't be surprising if his mind was cluttered after watching Luongo make 23 saves as Canada marched through Austria, 6-0, on Friday. It was 24 hours earlier when Price stopped 19 of 20 shots in a 3-1 win against Norway and did nothing to indicate he couldn't handle the pressure of the Olympics.

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Babcock would not reveal his starter following the win against Austria, and it's probably because he doesn't know. After victories on back-to-back days, Team Canada won't practice and interaction between coach and player is not allowed, so he will be left to study game film, numbers and listen to his gut on a free day for his players.

There wasn't much difference between Luongo and Price in these two games.

Norway's goal came after Price mishandled a puck behind his net, but there wasn't much for him to do against an overmatched opponent. Price, Luongo or a well-placed garbage can would have been a formidable obstacle for Norway in that contest.

Luongo had a few more difficult saves against Austria, but nothing that will make highlight shows. He had to move quickly to his right to deny a shot from Michael Raffl and received the benefit of the goal post on a chance from Michael Grabner, but was otherwise enjoying a nice view of Canada's offensive onslaught.

In 2010, Martin Brodeur was the established starter going into that tournament, but laid an egg in the final game of group play in a loss to the United States. Babcock turned to Luongo, who got the start in the first game of group play against Norway, for the elimination round in what was a relatively easy decision compared to what he has now and the rest was history.

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If you believe history, that Babcock believes in giving his backup goaltender the easy opening game against Norway before plugging in his starter, then maybe he's already made up his mind that Luongo is his guy.

If you believe statistics, there isn't a clear answer there, either.

Since the 2010-11 season, Price has a .919 save percentage, the fifth-best mark among goaltenders to appear in at least 150 games. Over that same time period, Luongo has a .921 save percentage, the fourth-best mark.

But in the present time, the 26-year-old Price has been better than the 34-year-old Luongo.

Price is 26-17-5 with a 2.33/.925 split for the Montreal Canadiens this season. Luongo is 19-6-6 with a 2.38/.917 split for the Vancouver Canucks.

In their final six games leading into the Olympics, Price was phenomenal, stopping 203 of 210 shots (.967) while Luongo wasn't anywhere near his best, stopping 154 of 171 shots (.901). 

Roberto Luongo vs. Carey Price Save Percentage
Goaltender This season Since 2010-11 Past six NHL games Olympics
Roberto Luongo .917 .921 .901 23 of 23
Carey Price .925 .919 .967 19 of 20

NHL.com/Hockey-Reference

So to whom does Babcock turn to Sunday and perhaps beyond in Sochi—the solid veteran who has won gold here before but was off his game in the two weeks leading to the Olympics, or the solid veteran with less big-game experience but better numbers in present day?

Coaches and management tend to value the full body of the resume more than a smaller sample size of recent games. But deciding between Luongo and Price is like deciding between actresses Kate and Rooney Mara or buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks.

No matter what you choose, you're going to wind up picking something with greatness inside of it that can get the job done when it counts.

And since this is group play, if whoever Babcock picks stumbles like Brodeur did four years ago, the other guy is there to step into the breach.

Maybe Babcock has his mind made up. Maybe he'll just go with the guy he wanted to go with before the tournament started. Maybe he'll need a long run around the Olympic village to figure it out.

Either way, even if he chooses poorly, he can take another long run Monday and make a different choice for the next game. 

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo

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