The Cory Schneider juggernaut rolls on, booking a fifth consecutive win, as Roberto Luongo looked on from the bench.
The Vancouver Canucks, coming home on Tuesday night, didn’t always look great as they won 4-1 over the league’s worst team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had to start their third-string goaltender because of numerous injuries. And the Blue Jackets outshot Vancouver 48-34 in the losing effort.
Schneider’s been the Canucks’ “best player, by far,” in the five-game run, said Ryan Kesler, who scored a zinger in the third to put the team up 3-1.
“It doesn’t matter how we play or how many shots we let up, he’s always there for us,” said Kesler of Schneider.
Though the 25-year-old netminder was burned shorthanded in the third period, which stole what would have been his third shutout in four games, the man who is arguably the league’s hottest goalie has stopped 174 of 178 in his five consecutive wins - 97.6 per cent.
Tuesday’s win helped vault Vancouver into the Western Conference playoff picture, standing sixth, after starting the day in ninth.
“[Columbus]came at us. Cory stood his ground,” coach Alain Vigneault told reporters, adding that Schneider was the team’s best player (he was awarded first star on the night).
Vancouver was pounded for more than 40 shots for the second straight game.
“Well,” Vigneault said, “they say never critique a win. That being said, obviously giving up 22 shots in the third period is not exactly part of the overall plan.”
The big question looms.
Come Thursday at home against Nashville, will Vancouver’s declared starter, Luongo, get the nod? Schneider was strong Tuesday but he didn’t always look eyes-pop-out-of-your-head amazing, as he did on the road in Phoenix and San Jose.
Vigneault laughed when asked who would start. “Don’t ask me that right now,” he said, adding he would pick his starter Wednesday morning.
The night’s opposing goaltender, Columbus’s Curtis Sanford, had some canny observations. The 32-year-old used to back up Luongo himself.
On Schneider: “It was almost like he was made of Velcro,” said Sanford. “Right now he’s the hottest goalie in the NHL, so it’s no surprise they keep going back with him.”
Still, Sanford noted: “It’s a little wild looking over at the bench and seeing Roberto over there.” He could hardly believe it but added, “When you have two goalies like this and can play them both, it’s a win-win situation.”
Luongo, his gold medal at home, is healthy, and watched his fourth consecutive game from the bench, after losing his job to Schneider while dealing with a minor injury. Vigneault has repeatedly said he is playing the “hot hand” with Schneider, and Luongo is the undisputed No. 1.
And don’t fret. The Schneider-Luongo thing is a manufactured figment of your imagination, according to Mike Gillis, Canucks president and general manager, who sounded not unlike Sanford. Gillis suggested any wayward perceptions that wondered why Luongo had been benched are imagined.
“There’s no controversy,” Gillis told Team 1040 radio Tuesday afternoon before the game. “The controversy is in the media.”
Gillis said having two “very good” goalies is a “best-case scenario.” He added that the goalie position is like every other position on the ice: “If you don’t play well enough, you’re not going to get the minutes.”
It was an odd comment, given that Luongo was on a 3-1 run before he was hurt, though of course he started the season, as usual, poorly.
Booth Comes Alive
David Booth arrived on the Vancouver roster in late October from Florida, a surprise to locals. Then, muddling the confusion, his hoped-for scoring injection failed to materialize, as Booth, and the team, struggled. Booth found it tough to jive with the Canuck’s rhythms, and the swift-footed 27-year-old from Detroit played poorly on offense and defense.
Tuesday night, the Booth who Gillis traded for showed up. He hustled all night long and looked particularly good on his goal, which put his side up 2-0. He carried the puck up from his own end and after a shot didn’t work, he circled, and was beside the net when he popped in a nice backhander. It was his second goal in three games, suggesting that he might be finding the form that helped him notch 60 points in 72 games for Florida in 2008-09.
“[The Canucks]play a fast-paced game,” Booth said in the locker room. “It’s a fun team to play on. I’m starting to enjoy it.”
The Canucks have the league’s best power play, and one of the best penalty kills. So why the troubles this year? One glaring stat: At five-on-five, up until Tuesday night, the Canucks had been scored on more than they scored. Ouch. They managed four even-strength goals against Columbus, including the opener on the night from Daniel Sedin, just his seventh goal of any sort of the year. He hadn’t scored since Nov. 6 and thereafter skated through eight games scoreless.
Back in the NHL
With recent news of the Minnesota Wild briefly signing a 51-year-old rec league netminder as an emergency backup, the story of Sanford has caught some attention, too. The Owen Sound, Ont.-native hadn’t played a NHL game since he backed up Luongo in Vancouver in 2008-09, going 7-8. He rattled through the minors for several years and got a gig as a third-stringer in Columbus this season. Injuries felled the goaltenders ahead of Sanford and suddenly he was starting, going 3-1-2 before last night’s loss, where he looked relatively impressive.
“We’re staying in games,” Sanford said in an empty locker room. It was the first game of a four-game roadtrip through Canada. Sanford said the pelting of Schneider was a good sign. “We put up a good fight.”
Sanford had entered the game with stellar stats – a 1.38 goals against average – and his work has been a minor balm for a team that’s posted its worst-ever start – and that’s is quite a feat. Since its 2000 expansion debut, the awful Blue Jackets have only once made the playoffs, in 2008-09.