This just in: There are as many Vancouver Canucks fans who support Roberto Luongo as there are Vancouver Canucks fans who despise him.
Cory Schneider will get the start for the Canucks tonight when they take to the ice versus the St. Louis Blues, and head coach Alain Vigneault insists that was the plan from the start following his decision to pull Roberto Luongo midway through the second period in last night’s loss to Edmonton.
Now, there isn’t yet developed technology that allows us to see what’s going on in Vigneault’s head, but chances are he’s torn between sticking to Luongo or going to Schneider on a more frequent basis.
Has Roberto Luongo been bad, even by his usual October standards? Yes, there’s no sense even debating it. Even for October, this is the first time during his tenure with the Canucks that his save percentage has been below.900 (it’s .868) and his goals-against average has swollen to 3.46. Granted the competition Cory Schneider has beaten isn’t exactly top grade (Wins against Columbus and Minnesota), but has the backup given anyone reason to doubt his abilities?
Even during mop-up duty against the Oilers, Schneider’s goal-line save against Jordan Eberle in the third period during a 3-2 game gave the Canucks a fighting chance to even the score. In that regard, hasn’t Schneider done enough to earn tonight’s start, regardless of whether or not it was “the plan”?
Alain Vigneault has held his team to a standard that if you’re playing well, you’ll be rewarded. Conversely, if you’re playing poorly, you’re going to get bumped a couple notches down the pecking order. We’ve seen it this season when Jannik Hansen was bumped up to the second line when he scored an early goal against Minnesota, knocking Cody Hodgson down to the third line.
Why should goaltending be any different? Why should Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider be exceptions to Vigneault’s standards?
For the first time in his tenure with the Canucks, Roberto Luongo is being challenged by a backup who may just have the same skill set as him. He never had to look over his shoulder when Dany Sabourin, Curtis Sanford, or Andrew Raycroft were playing second fiddle to him, but Schneider is a different animal altogether.
Why not have Schneider start a few more? Why not force Luongo to work hard in practice and work his way out of this funk? At the end of the day, isn’t that what’s best for the team?
And it’s not like “franchise” netminders around the league haven’t undergone this before. Last year, Marc-Andre Fleury’s poor October saw Brent Johnson get an increase in ice time. Two years ago, Tim Thomas, coming off a Vezina win, was supplanted by young upstart Tuukka Rask. A year later, Thomas backstopped the Bruins to the Stanley Cup. And I don’t even need to bring up the well-documented Price vs. Halak war in Montreal.
The point is, whether fans choose to believe it or not, we might very well be at a crease crossroad. It’s still very early in the year, but this goalie debate has dragged on long enough that it’s not too early to give Cory Schneider a vote of confidence, either.