Photo credit: faceoff.com
As I am sure everyone is aware of by now, Roberto Luongo was named the NHL’s third star of the week on Monday. For the most part, Luongo has met or exceeded every reasonable prediction people had of him in the off-season. It is fairly well known that goalies that enter their mid-30s steadily decline in save percentage. Luongo’s .918 is just a fraction off his .919 career average
That being said, during a season where save percentage is at its all-time highest, despite the league making goalie equipment smaller, Luongo has been an average at best starter.
At 5-on-5 play, Luongo’s save percentage is .923 and good enough for 16th best in the NHL among goalies who have played 50 percent of their teams games. Advanced stats for goalies lags behind the metrics for skaters but 5-on-5 play is the fairest way to evaluate goaltenders against each other as special teams stats are more heavily influenced by teammates play. Even if you account for the Canucks’ league best penalty kill, Luongo only gets bumped up to 12th with a traditional .918 save percentage.
To further demonstrate the issue, goalies such as Steve Mason, Jaroslav Halak, and Ondrej Pavelec have all posted a better save percentage at even strength. You’d probably be pretty disappointed to have any of those guys are your team’s starter.
The good news for the Canucks is that teams are moving away from heavily depending on star goaltenders to win them the cup. There have been plenty of teams that have had average goaltending and made the playoffs in the recent past, however, teams like Minnesota, Colorado and Toronto have demonstrated that relying on goaltending to steal games can still get you a few extra wins that the Canucks could really use right now to get back into the Pacific Division race.
Now, if you follow the Canucks on a daily basis you’d probably notice that not much is being made about Luongo’s average stats. I believe that there are a couple reasons for this. One being what I already mentioned, that Luongo has been playing up to the standards set for him early on this season. More likely though, people have shifted their criticism from Luongo’s play to the lack of scoring depth when the team loses low scoring games. Without Cory Schnieder on the team, the fans and media don’t have the default reaction we’ve been accustomed to – calling for the backup. Luongo has done his best to avoid the soft goals as well and continued consistency will be important going forward as well.
What we’re seeing from Luongo is probably about what we can expect for the rest of the season and that’s not necessarily bad thing considering the potential decline the Canucks could have been dealing with.