Originally written on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 10/13/11

DENVER - OCTOBER 03: Goaltender Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks defends the goal against the Colorado Avalanche during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on October 3, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. Luongo had 24 saves while giving up three goals as the Avalanche defeated the Canucks 3-0. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

By Alexander Monaghan
President 

By Matt Boulton from Vancouver, Canada (Luongo) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org /licenses/by-sa/2.0

Just four games into the 2011-2012 regular season and the biggest storyline from last postseason is still one of the biggest points of discussion. Roberto Luongo continues to allow soft goals and play worse than his backup Cory Schneider yet he still holds a job as the team’s starting goalie.

Coming into this season, Luongo was a ‘changed man’. No longer would he speak to his local media in a slapdash manner, giving candid answers which downplayed his opponents value. If tires were to be pumped, the Montreal native would pump them. He now would take responsibility for his actions, coming across as ‘humble’, ‘accountable’ and ‘apologetic’.

Following a poor season opener, where he allowed a soft, off-angle goal, he understood he wasn’t playing at his best. From The White Towel:

After six years in Vancouver, he got it right Thursday. He had built in excuses about losing a month to training and not getting enough preseason games. He passed.

Instead, he copped to the are-you-kidding-me first goal, he apologized for the whiff on the third and then took responsibility for the shootout.

And when asked about the fans jeering him, calling for Ccory Schneider to start in the first 60 minutes of hockey this season, he basically said he would have done the same thing.Disarming, wasn’t it.It’s not going to win everyone over, and it may not last. But for one game he handled it perfectly.

Jason Botchford was right: his poor performance was only over one game. However after that one game he showed little improvement by yielding five goals to the Flyers in his second start. Perhaps starting the season against tough, Atlantic Divison powerhouses like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers put too much pressure on him. Nevertheless, aren’t elite starting goalies supposed to win those games?

Considering his team’s offense is somewhat downgraded without Ryan Kesler, Luongo will need to step up in the interim. But he does have the majority of his Western Conference-winning defense returning with only Christian Ehrhoff noted as the key subtraction. In theory, there should be little change. Yet doubt is now upon us and Luongo’s ability to disprove his critics on the ice is clearly lacking.

In the past, the 32-year-old was a slow starter sleepwalking his way through season openers and the month of October. In hockey’s opening month he sports a 2.62 GAA, .915 SV% and eight shutouts throughout his career. With eight games left in the month — seven if you include Schneider’s start today — he would need to be closer to perfect to adjust his current 3.89 GAA and .885 SV%. Only Craig Anderson of the lowly Ottawa Senators has been worse so far.

By contrast, Schneider has been superb in his first game, stopping 23 of 25 shots and leading the team to an actual victory. In his second game he stopped 35 of the 37 shots that the Detroit Red Wings peppered him with taking a hard-luck loss. Even though we are only four games into the season he started twice already, making a standard #1 and #2 scenario look a lot more like a platoon. The Canucks will downplay the netminding controversy all they want but right now the backup is the better option, and it shows.

Media mogul Stan Fischler, via Twitter, explained “Luongo’s bad goals were an indication that Schneider was actually a better goaltender.” Last season, you could possibly even make that argument as Schneider outplayed Luongo at even strength. The problem with that assessment is the difference is .09 goals per 60 minutes which is relatively negligible over an entire season. Luongo actually managed to outperform Schneider on both the power play and penalty kill, which betters his case.

2010-2011 Regular Season GAA Even Strength Shorthanded Powerplay Roberto Luongo 1.97 4.52 0.18 Cory Schneider 1.88 5.32 0.52

The problem is, good ‘ol Bobby Lu fails the eye test. Statistics are great for showing how a player fares in all scenarios but softies definitely don’t make it into the box score. Furthermore, his postseason GAA is .03 points lower than regular season GAA which indicates that he only performs poorly in short sample sizes — aka when it matters.

His early season struggles are nothing new. Last year he posted a 2.93 GAA and .907 SV% before bouncing back and lowering his counting stats significantly as the season progressed. This year could be no different, except the difference is Schneider’s progression and development. Luongo may not receive the chance to bounce back if Schneider proves himself a better option. Better yet, the grooming of his protege could haunt him some playoff time when Cory Schneider starts game one.

Consider the above thought process a doomsday scenario. Signed through 2022 (2022!) the organization would like to squeeze a few more years out of the perennial All Star. If they can’t his contract, and his career for that matter, could go down a similar path Rick DiPietro — a laughing stock across the entire NHL.

Luongo controls his own destiny with his play dictating his fateful future.


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