The Canucks don’t care who the No. 1 goalie is, and neither do I

Luongo starting for the Canucks tonight isn’t a controversy.
Ryan O’Reilly not starting for the Avalanche? Now that’s a controversy.

Roberto Luongo is starting for the Vancouver Canucks tonight against Colorado, for the second game in a row, the latest inexplicable move by the milt of a bench boss who seems determined to keep this goalie controversy active and festering in the minds of his players, players who are performing below their expected ability because of the mental distraction wrought on them by not knowing in the back of their minds who the clear No. 1 goaltender is for this once proud franchise.

Gee, that’s a mouthful, and difficult to write without placing my tongue firmly on the part of my keyboard analogous to the cheek, and spewing nonsense out of my mouth. The words are certainly in English, but the thoughts don’t make any sense.

Whatever your impressions of Alain Vigneault as a coach, the furthest place you should look for criticism is the starting goaltender he chooses for any given game. Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo are both starting goalies at the NHL-level. They play on the same team, and as a result, the prescribed “backup” is going to see consecutive games at some point.

I didn’t like reporters asking Cory Schneider at the Canucks’ mini-camp how he would do as the starting goalie with the pressure of the city on him. The label “Number One” goalie is archaic in an age where there are, at any given moment, about 40 people in the world who could start on a given National Hockey League team.

Certainly, back in the day of many sports commentators or writers, every team had a “Number One”. The Chicago Blackhawks had Glenn Hall, the Montreal Canadiens had Jacques Plante, the Toronto Maple Leafs had Johnny Bower. Gump Worsley, Harry Lumley, “Suger” Jim Henry and Al Rollins are other famous names that were classic No. 1 starters. They were familiar names because teams didn’t often use backup goaltenders and goaltenders frequently played entire seasons. 29 goalies played every game in the Original Six era. No goalie has done it since, even in the lockout-shortened 1995 season.

The game has evolved, and labelling lines or positions the way we used to “first line” “shutdown defenceman” “enforcer” are positions where the wording stands up to more scrutiny. It’s why I avoid sweeping statements like “the first line” when talking about Henrik and Daniel Sedin because that insinuates the implication that is the line that is counted on the most in every situation by Vigneault. It’s not, and they didn’t even the get the most ice-time per game last season.

If I recall correctly (I can’t find the precise quote) I remember Alain Vigneault saying pre-season that Luongo would start three or four times out of every ten games, and they’d probably split the back-to-backs. “Three or four times out of every ten games” is actually a lot of starts: pro-rated over a 48-game season, Schneider would start 29 times and Luongo 19 times. In a 15-week season, that means there will be five weeks where the goalies have an equal number of starts, and ten weeks where Schneider will have one more. It’s a small discrepancy that will add up over the course of forty eight games.

Of course, there will be lots of mis-guided discussion about how the Canucks are handling their goalies because there isn’t a clear No. 1. People keep asking Vigneault who the starter is, and he keeps vaguely replying with the truth—he has two good goaltenders, and Luongo is the starter tonight.

There’s a built-in narrative that Schneider was feeling Luongo at his heels, which was why he struggled in the opening game of the season against Anaheim. He responded by playing well in his next two starts against Calgary and Anaheim, apparently having gotten over the bug of Luongo being traded. Last season, Luongo had his second best era-adjusted even strength save percentage of his career, and the best of his Canucks’ career, even with Schneider nipping at his heels. Canucks’ goalies have a .934 save rate this season and had a .929 last season. The St. Louis Blues, who wound up at the top of every goaltending category there is, had a 1A and 1B system with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.

Luongo makes saves and will start a lot of games this season. Schneider makes saves and will start a lot of games this season, but probably a few more than Luongo. Sometimes a team with a goalie controversy is just a team with two good goalies.

  • puck-bandit

    It’s odd to read that we are on the same page with respect to who goes in net tonight, or any other night.
    The media mongrels need something to write about, so why not about our tandem.
    Having the choice of two quality starters is great, and I see no controversy here. I’m getting more concerned about dropping two games after a two goal lead, and it’s not goal tending.
    It’s sad that we Nuck fans seem to enjoy driving goalies out of town. Would it not be ironic if Lou wins the Grail on the team he lands on. Wonder how all of us hockey guru’s will feel then?
    Good read, wish I had more time to keep up on the articles.