When the Game 2 score between Los Angeles and Vancouver was 3-1, a number of the boisterous crowd we had over in our apartment had begun to ignore the game, talking amongst themselves about a number of other topics and only half paying attention to the action on-screen.
Part of my role in the Canucks’ blogosphere is to record scoring chances for half the games. A few team-specific blogs have a writer or two dedicated to tracking quality shots for and against a team, plugging them into an application, and churning out a plus/minus number that is more specific than Corsi but with a much higher sample size than traditional plus/minus that only counts goals, and also counts goals wherein the defence was at no fault.
But that’s neither here nor there. I count chances armed with a PVR remote control, liberal usage of the “replay last 15 seconds” button, and the patience of my friends coming over to watch the game who have to re-watch moments.
I re-wound the Kings’ fourth goal in Game 2 to confirm that there were indeed two scoring chances on the play. As many people had turned away from the screen, some were attracted to the action on the screen, seeing the goal for the first time. The immediate reaction, of course, blame Roberto Luongo.
Well, sure. If you only pay attention to goals, I’m guessing the goalie doesn’t look very good in very many of them. I think in the history of hockey, goalies have about a .000 save percentage on shots that resulted in goals, and that’s usually pretty low.
I heard some rabid voice in the background yell out “Play Schneider” and I wanted to throw a brick on her car. The broadcast decided that, since the Canucks haven’t scored more than two regulation goals in their last ten playoff games, that it would be a good moment to show Cory Schneider, the answer to all their problems, sitting on the bench helplessly.
Schneider is a terrific goaltender. He didn’t have a .931 even strength save percentage this season purely by fluke, but neither did Luongo, whose .929 I think is a little more impressive just because of the grind of playing as the starter, seeing more starts, more pucks, and generally earning more wear and tear on the body. His stability in the regular season gave the Canucks are very secure option to turn to when Luongo was hurt or had the odd bad game, he stepped in, did his role very well and never complained.
There is one clear thing the Canucks need to do in the offseason, and depending on who you ask, that could be “trade Luongo and re-sign Schneider” or “trade Schneider and keep Luongo”. Despite Luongo’s no-trade clause, he has a cap-friendly enough contract. His cap hit is just over $5M, which is 8th among NHL goaltenders and since it’s a front-loaded deal, more than 25% of the contract has already been paid out in about 17% of the contract length, which makes it a little easier to move. Schneider is a restricted free agent this summer, and while I’m sure 9/10 Canuck fans would tell you that they’d rather keep both, the reality is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay two goalies like starters in today’s NHL.
If I’m sitting in Vancouver’s general manager chair, I’m pulling out my hair over how to handle the next couple of days. Schneider started 28 games this season, and more as the year wore on. He’s a guy who you’d want to schedule to go every three games, and I don’t know what prevents you from doing the same thing in the playoffs other than the bizarre convention that states a single goaltender must be “the guy” in a playoff run.
But that’s the thing. With news today out of Vancouver that Daniel Sedin is shut down for the series, it may be time to think ahead to next season. I know the history, that the Boston Bruins were down 2-0 to the Montreal Canadiens after two home games last year, then went out and, well, won everything. So did the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2002 Detroit Red Wings. I’m not suggesting “give up”, but you can’t just throw Cory Schneider to the wolves and risk diminishing his trade value.
It’s the weird thing. All eyes were on the Canucks last season when they had taken a 3-0 lead on Chicago, allowed the series to get to 3-2 (and then 3-3). That was Schneider’s first playoff start and it did not go well. He allowed three goals, made a giveaway on one of them, and left after cramping up after a Marian Hossa penalty shot. He didn’t look quite ready in that game, but his excellent play this season has quelled the notion that he shrinks in big moments.
If it happens twice, and Schneider has a rough outing in Los Angeles and drop one, the Canucks are pretty well beyond repair. You’re behind 3-0 in the series, and now are the proud owner of two very good regular season goalies who can’t win in the playoffs. That doesn’t really matter to me (as Gabe Desjardins said today, “discussing playoff goaltending is like arguing over who the best regular season OT team is”) but a lot of teams that need goalies are bad teams in the first place. A lot of teams are bad because their management makes decisions that hinge on a player’s ability in a small sample size tournament like the NHL Playoffs.
Suppose you want to win this game, and not look ahead. You need a way to out-goaltend Jonathan Quick, who has been mustard at the other end of the arena. Luongo gives the Canucks the best chance to win Game 3. His lows are the lowest I’ve ever seen any star goaltender, but his highs are some of the highest as well. In his first playoff start, he made 72 saves, including 36 past regulation, in a 4-OT victory. In the Stanley Cup Finals last June, he posted two shutouts. If all the chips are down and it’s a must-win, you bring in Luongo, 100% of the time.
One goalie is going to be given up in the offseason, and it’s not too early to start thinking about who it’s going to be. If the Canucks turn away from the best goalie the franchise has ever seen a pretty dire time, you aren’t doing his reputation any favours. I had pencilled in Schneider start Game Three, but assumed a 1-1 series at this point, where the stakes are lower and not as many people have their attention turned to this game.
And, come on. Has Luongo been the problem for the team? With 65 shots against and just 4 goals, to be even in this series, you’re counting on your goaltender to have a .938 save percentage just to be tied through two games. Luongo’s even strength save percentage is at .951, his problems resulting from poor goal support, five-on-five defence and an atrocious powerplay.
As for who you move or keep in the offseason, I’m in Schneider’s camp.