Above the 49: Schneider a realistic playoff option for Canucks
By Daniel Fung
Sports Network Columnist
Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) -
Roberto Luongo bashing has been a longstanding tradition in Vancouver for the past five seasons, but it seems the calls for his head have never been louder than this spring especially in light of the Vancouver Canucks' recent stumble toward the regular-season finish line.
With just 10 games remaining for the Canucks before the start of the NHL playoffs, there seems to be large groundswell of support - at least among a portion of the fan base - to ride another goaltender, 26-year-old Cory Schneider, heading into the postseason.
There seems to be some support for that notion coming from Canucks coaching staff as well.
|Cory Schneider has appeared in under 30 games this year for the Canucks, despite a 2.08 GAA.|
Schneider is coming off back-to-back starts on Saturday and Monday - albeit against also-ran teams in the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, respectively - marking just the second time this season he has appeared in consecutive outings. He started seven in a row from Nov. 16 to Dec. 1.
But this recent pair of starts for Schneider is perhaps even more telling than his run of seven straight earlier in the campaign.
Schneider's string of starts back in November was necessitated due to an injury to Luongo. It was his strong performances that kept him in net for several games even after Luongo returned to the lineup.
Performance issues have been at the heart of this recent goaltending change for the Canucks, but it's not because Schneider has been overly spectacular. Rather the opposite has been true for Luongo.
In five starts during March, Luongo is 1-3-0 with one non-decision and has yielded 16 goals on 132 total shots faced for a 3.97 GAA and a .879 save percentage.
Schneider, meanwhile, has just one regulation loss in 11 starts dating back to Dec. 29. That lone regulation loss came this past Monday in a game against Minnesota in which he received absolutely no offensive support but still managed to keep his team close stopping 32 of 33 shots in a 2-0 loss.
Luongo's latest struggles have come at a time when he's typically been at the top of his game. Coming into this season, he had posted an all-time record of 41-19-4 in March as a Canuck and has just one losing March under his belt, in 2008-09, which happens to be the only season the Canucks missed the postseason in the Luongo era.
The Canucks, with all due respect to the likes of Dany Sabourin, Curtis Sanford, Jason LaBarbera and Andrew Raycroft, have never had a legitimate option besides Luongo to go with in the playoffs.
Even last season when Schneider was having a strong campaign in his first full year in the NHL, Luongo's 10-3-0 run to close out the regular season - not to mention his Vezina Trophy candidate numbers - showed he was by far the right choice to lead the team.
The same can't really be said this season, however, with Schneider's numbers by far outshining those of Luongo's albeit in half as many starts. Schneider has a goals against average of 2.08 - nearly half-a-goal per game less than Luongo's 2.48 - while his save percentage ranks near the top of the league among all netminders at .933.
Still, it seems unfathomable that Luongo won't be the starter for the Canucks come the opening game of the playoffs. Then again, plenty can change between now and April 11, especially if Luongo continues to falter down the stretch.
The Canucks have shown no hesitation about putting Schneider into high pressure situations, including last year when the Boston native made his first career playoff start in Game 6 of Vancouver's opening-round series against Chicago at a time when the Canucks seemed to be spiraling out of control and were on the verge of squandering a 3-0 series lead.
Who knows how the rest of the Canucks' playoff run would have progressed had Schneider not been forced to leave that game with cramps to allow Luongo to reclaim the crease and ultimately lead Vancouver to a Game 7 overtime win.
This season, Schneider's starts have included games against the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks and, perhaps the most highly anticipated opponent for the Canucks this season, the Bruins.
Don't be surprised if there are more big-game starts to come for Schneider.