There are some things that are undeniable. On paper, Roberto Luongo is among the greatest goalies of his generation - with three Vezina Trophy nominations, a Jennings Trophy and an Olympic gold medal. And he is easily the best regular season goalie in the history of the Vancouver Canuck franchise. And just as he is seemingly not Mr. June (as his on again off again Stanley Cup performance would indicate), he is neither Mr. October (Thursday night’s all around poor performance was only another ding on his notoriously mediocre early season resume).
With this latest early season blunder (which should be completely acceptable in the context of his career work) coming on the heels of his Stanley Cup Final meltdown, the jittery masses are reaching for the panic button.
But as impressive as his long list of accomplishments is, there should be a growing concern about his mental state when it comes to high pressure situations.
In a recent post, we highlighted the Canucks’ poor performance in playoff elimination games. During his career with the Canucks, Luongo has posted an unacceptable 7 wins and 11 losses in 18 post season elimination games. His stats in those games (2.82 GAA and .908 Save %) are in stunning contrast to his record in non-elimination playoff games (2.37 GAA and .921 Save %) and regular season games (2.34 GAA and .920 Save %).
Perhaps even more startling and more telling with respect to his volatile temperament when the heat is on is his record in the 7 elimination game wins (a sublime 1.13 GAA and .959 Save %) versus his numbers in the 11 elimination game losses (a horrific 5.09 GAA and .864 Save %). So it’s not as simple as “he chokes in big games”. He could stand on his head and win the game outright or, more than likely, he will crap the bed in a fashion that would make a toilet training toddler blush.
Another further oddity confirming Bobby Lou and his case of the yips, is his near perfect record on penalty shots contrasted against his remarkably poor record in the shootout. Both feature uncontested breakaways on a seemingly helpless keeper. But in a game situation (without the do or die pressure), Roberto proves his elite talent level, having stopped 88% of all such shots. Faced with the same breakaway scenario but with the game instead hanging in the balance, he literally and figuratively collapses, struggling to stop the puck only 68% of the time. And while the sample sizes are small (18 penalty shots) and large (183 shootout shots), the contrasting results are nonetheless striking.
At CC, we’ve mostly had Roberto’s back. At the height of his powers, he has put up the best goaltending we’ve seen. Though the best goaltending we’ve seen has often been limited to Kirk McLean, Richard Brodeur and Glen Hanlon. But beyond that, Roberto seems likable. By his teammates. By the fans. Who doesn’t like to holler “Loooooooooo” as loud as they can? And he seems so well intentioned. You know he burns for this as much as anyone. But lights out goaltending from game 12 to game 80 isn’t enough anymore. Not with the glory so close. And with a goalie waiting in the wings possibly capable of what Roberto hasn’t been.
The evidence is clearly mounting that Bobby Lou may never develop the mental state to be a consistent cool cucumber. And maybe he might, but how much longer shall we wait to see? What with our window of opportunity only shrinking.
We are not proposing anything rash. Other than the very simple notion that we give both goalies equal opportunity this time around. Does Cory Schneider have the game to compete at anything more than the spot duty he has been presented with thus far? Is he perhaps the key to the future of goaltending in this market, and not the anointed one, Roberto Luongo?
Two seasons ago, Boston asked the same thing about Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. And they found that Rask was indeed a top flight NHL goalie. They also found the competition propelled Thomas to one of the greatest goalie performances of all time. Heck, it’s even happened in this market before. When Bob McCammon found out that Troy Gamble wasn’t really a better option than Kirk McLean. Or Rick Ley discovered the same thing with Corey Hirsch again over the often equally mercurial McLean.
Over the course of the last season, the Canucks have moved away from the constant coddling of Roberto Luongo. We think that should continue. It is nothing personal, but something that simply needs to be done at this time.