Roberto Luongo’s recent injury may not be very serious and he may only miss a couple of games, but those games will once again give Cory Schneider a chance to prove his value to the Canucks organization.
After basically alternating between the two goaltenders for the first several games of the season, it had become apparent that Alain Vigneault was going back to his old methods recently after Luongo was given five consecutive starts before he sustained his injury.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with going that route. After all, history suggests that Luongo plays his best when he gets in a groove and plays a string of consecutive games, at least in the regular season. Luongo’s history also shows that he has put together some of his hottest streaks in the month of November, so it’s easy to see Vigneault’s logic.
The problem is that Cory Schneider gets left out of the mix when Vigneault does this and turns into just another back-up goalie. Vigneault is clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place when he is forced to make these types of decisions, so maybe with Luongo out of the picture for the immediate future, we might finally see what we have in our apparent star of the future.
The only reason I use the term "apparent" at this point is because Schneider hasn’t played enough games for anyone to accurately judge how good he really is. I personally believe he’ll be just fine when the time comes for him to play a long string of consecutive games, but no one can be certain of this until he actually does it. As good as his stats have been, he only started 22 games last season and never once started in three consecutive games.
If the Canucks can get Schneider at least 35 starts this season, it will have many positive implications.
The first and most obvious reason is exactly what I’ve been preaching for the last couple of paragraphs. The organization can finally see what this young prospect is like as a starter instead of a guy who comes in and plays well every fourth or fifth game. This should help boost the confidence that the team has in Schneider in case Luongo gets injured later in the season or has a meltdown in the playoffs. It will also give Mike Gillis the chance to truly assess the value of Schneider and decide his future next summer when he becomes a restricted free agent.
Secondly, it gives Luongo a chance to rest, whether he’s injured or not. As good as Bobby Lou might be in the regular season when he gets in a groove and plays a number of consecutive games, he hasn’t quite cleared the playoff hurdle just yet. Until he does, the best recipe for his success may be just a little more rest.
Finally, it gives everyone a chance to accurately decide who should be the legitimate starting goaltender in Vancouver. You can argue that no one should lose their starting job because of an injury, but it’s happened several times before in hockey and in other sports. Just two seasons ago, Tuukka Rask took over the reins between the pipes in Boston after Tim Thomas, who was the reigning Vezina winner, went down with an injury.
In the NFL, there are even more examples of this when it comes to quarterbacks. Both Tom Brady and Kurt Warner rose to fame because their predecessors got hurt and they stole the starting jobs away from them.
In the case of Schneider and Luongo, it’s unlikely that this will happen, but it’s not impossible.
Of course, this could all be a moot point if Luongo is only out of action for a couple of games. It’s still a strategy worth thinking about, though. A rested Luongo plus a tested Schneider could equal long-term success on a number of levels.
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