Move along, nothing to see here.
One of hockey’s best goaltenders, who is healthy, and has a gold medal at home, is benched tonight.
Benched isn’t the word the Vancouver Canucks are using about Roberto Luongo. But that’s kind of what it looks like.
The Canucks will Tuesday night again go with Cory Schneider, the team’s 25-year-old backup who had a great rookie season last year and, this year, when Luongo was hit with a minor injury, has been great. So great that he helped the struggling Canucks to a much-needed four-game win streak.
Still, Luongo’s ready to go. But the start against the woeful Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 p.m. PT in Vancouver goes to Schneider.
This was thrashed through after Monday’s practice but, regardless, it feels odd for a star starter to miss a couple games because of some minor ailment (never disclosed) and then be ready to play, yet .... no room at the inn. A lousy way to lose a starting job.
Vancouver - ever on-message - doesn’t see it as such. Schneider has the “hot hand,” everyone chants.
Schneider, asked about the seeming oddness of Luongo losing his job while he was briefly hurt:
“You know, it’s one of those things, where you get hurt, you miss a few games- it’s not that he’s necessarily lost it, he just hasn’t been given the opportunity to regain it, or play. Like I said, it’s good to play, help the team win, but Lou’s going to be back in there. I’m sure he’s not thinking of it that way, and neither am I.”
Schneider last year contributed a 16-4 record and a 2.23 goals-against-average to backstop Luongo and co-win the Jennings. Schneider started erratically this year, and his teammates didn’t really help with goal scoring. But he’s on fire now, including two consecutive shutouts on the road. Schneider’s 6-4 and his 2.02 GAA is sixth-best among goaltenders with at least 10 games played. His save-percentage of 0.931 is ranked ninth among those with 10 or more games. In the past four wins, he’s saved 0.975, stopping 117 of 120 shots.
Schneider is a gracious guy, and has obviously been lucky to work with, and grow with, a top tender like Luongo.
“He’s been on more streaks like this in one season than I have in my whole career,” said Schneider. “It’s nice to be playing this well, but I’m sure we’re going to need both of us the whole way this year.”
Luongo, the 32-year-old Montrealer, was on the ice much longer than most teammates at Tuesday’s morning skate. He is a notorious lover of practice.
Afterwards, in an interview with The Globe, Luongo calmly, with a slight sharp tone, dismissed the suggestion he’s lost the starting job.
“I don’t think I lost the starting role. Right now, Schneids is on the hot streak, and they’re riding the hot hand. So, for me, it’s a matter of being ready when I get back in.”
The simple fact, Luongo insisted, is Ws. Vancouver, after a weak start, is now 13-9-1, ninth in the Western Conference. A win against Columbus - the league’s worst team - could put them (depending on other games Tuesday) in a tie for fourth.
A win would also extend the winning streak to five, which hints at the 18-1-3 run last season (Nov. 24 to Jan. 11) that vaulted them to the Presidents’ Trophy. And the next seven games after Columbus are all against sides that (like the Canucks currently) wouldn’t make the playoffs if they began right this second
“The team’s winning,” Luongo said. “There’s no need to be panicked, or frustrated, or anything like that. When the team’s winning hockey games, life is good. We’re trying to climb up the standings and back to where were last year. That’s the bottom line for everybody in this locker room.”
Across the hall at Rogers Arena, Coach Alain Vigneault had only a few words about his goaltenders.
Asked when Luongo would get a start:
“Focused on tonight’s game, and tonight Schneider’s playing.”
Asked whether it was odd to lose a starting job due to a few missed games:
“All I can say is that Schneids is playing tonight, and it’s going to be a tough game against a real tough opponent.”
(If Columbus is “real tough,” I’m not sure where Boston etc. would rank in the mind of AV.)
Lastly.... The Vancouver Sun ran a contest for children to be a Canucks reporter. A 10-year-old - he turns 11 tomorrow (I didn’t get his name) - won the gig and started the presser with AV. He asked about what factors changed in November compared with October, in terms of the team (making better decisions with the puck, the coach said). Then the lad asked about headshots - everyone is agreed: bad - as well as fighting.
“Like a lot of fans,” Vigneault smiled, “I don’t mind the occasional fight.”
A wiseacre journalist noted that Vigneault seemed to give better answers to the child than the regular reporters. Cue many laughs. Cue more laughs, with AV’s riposte:
“If you ask good questions, you get good answers.”
Audio from Roberto Luongo: