April 26, 2011

Canucks Goaltending in Game 7 - Good Luck!

If you're a Vancouver Canucks fan, you can't feel good about the goaltending situation going into Game 7 versus the Chicago Blackhawks this evening at GM Place.  Corey Schneider was the surprise starter in favor of Roberto Luongo in Game 6 and that decision backfired as Schneider mishandled the puck twice, both instances leading to goals, and was unable to stop a penalty shot (a play in which he was injured and had to leave the game) which tied the contest.  Other than that, Schneider did play well, but you can't overlook the miscues (I thought Carey Price was the only goalie in the playoffs giving the puck away on a regular basis) and apparently Canucks coach Alain Vigneault isn't.  Luongo is back in the net for Game 7. But why was Schneider the Game 6 starter over Luongo?  On the Versus broadcast, there was speculation that Luongo was nursing a stiff back and that that may have been justification for the move.  The evidence doesn't support that theory and the only logical explanation that one can come up with is that Vigneault had lost confidence in his netminder.  After losing two playoff games in a row by 5 goals each, can you blame him?  That fact along with Luongo's poor playoff performances against the 'Hawks in recent years would lead you to believe that Chicago has the formula for disrupting his rhythm and play.  When Chicago lost Dustin Byfuglien over the summer, no one could have been happier than Luongo.  Byfuglien was seemingly his nemesis in the last couple of years and he was a major factor in Chicago's triumphs over Vancouver in the playoffs in 2009 and 2010.  Byfuglien may be gone, but 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has managed to plug new players into the role of Luongo agitator, and it's working.  Luongo is off his game and Vigneault is panicking.

Can Roberto Luongo be counted on in a big game?  That question came up early in this series on one of the Versus broadcasts, and analyst Daryl Reaugh insisted he could be counted on to deliver when needed, as he helped Team Canada win Olympic Gold in Vancouver in 2010 after all.  While that statement is factually correct, on closer examination, it may not stand up to scrutiny.  Yes, Luongo was in goal for Team Canada for the big games on the way to the Gold Medal.  However, his presence in net did not inspire confidence especially in the Gold Medal game versus the United States.  He looked extremely nervous in that tense contest especially down the stretch when he was bobbling the puck all over the place.  He seemingly couldn't control his muscles due to the nerves, and I would say that Team Canada won the Gold Medal in spite of its goaltending situation, not because of it (none of the goaltenders stood out).  I think Reaugh has missed the mark with his answer to this question, and I saw the same Luongo at the end of Game 6 in Chicago that I saw in Vancouver in 2010 in the Gold Medal game.  A goalie flopping around, unable to control the puck and giving up a crucial goal when his team needed a big stop.

So Roberto Luongo is the Game 7 starter, and no, you can't feel good if you're a Vancouver Canucks fan.
- Brian Lomax

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