At 32 years old former Florida Panther and current Vancouver Canuck goaltender Roberto Luongo is having to face the music in what is a hockey mad town, that is showing very little mercy. The pressure to win in a Canadian city is nothing like most other places you will play in, especially what he experienced during his time here in Florida. NOTE: David Booth, beware of the throng of media that will ask about every shot you take that doesn’t result in a goal. For Luongo every save he doesn’t make, and goal against is being scrutinized. The questions about his game and his style, which seem to be changing constantly are filling the worldwide internet. Is he out of position? Is he seeing the puck? Is he playing too deep, is he coming out too far to challenge? Is he distracted and or not focused?
Along with the questions about his performance, come the jokes. And while I admit to falling into that
five hole myself, it seems as though it cannot be helped. There are websites, facebook pages, and even an Occupy Luongo Twitter account all designed to make fun of the talented, yet seemingly overrated netminder. Stories like this seem to pop up daily. And he’s even being compared to Dirk Nowitzki.
While hockey is a team sport, the position of goaltender is much like the position of an NFL quarterback, especially when it comes to being under pressure. An untimely interception, a poorly thrown pass, and an ill advised decision all are dissected just as much as a goaltenders’ mistake. When it comes to Luongo however, it appears that the mistakes he’s making, or the goals he’s allowing are magnified at every opportunity. For example in last night’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers, Luongo had another of his famous meltdown’s in the second period, giving up three goals in a span of 5 minutes. The three goals gave the Oilers a quick 3-0 lead and BOOM, Luong-hole was pulled, and of course Twitter lit up like a Christmas tree. The meltdowns in the regular season now seem to be coming more frequently as we all are aware of the one’s in the post season. If not, let’s refresh your memory:
* The 2007 playoffs against the Anaheim Ducks an overtime goal was scored against Lou when he briefly took his eye off the play in order to get the officials attention for a penalty that he felt should have been called. Series over.
* Successive blow ups against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009 and 2010 allowing the Hawks to advance to the Conference Finals, and Stanley Cup Final respectively.
* In 2011 with the Canucks up 3-0 against the Hawks, he somehow managed to get Vancouver into a game 7 which they almost lost, but won in overtime no thanks to a mistake by a defenceman no longer in the windy city.
* Finally his performance against Boston where he ultimately “pumped the tires” of opposing goalie Tim Thomas, saw the Canucks squander a 2-0 series lead, leading to this handshake, and the city of Vancouver erupted.
Some are beginning to question openly the mental toughness of the netminder who plays with a confident swagger most of the time. But has that swagger turned into overconfidence? He’s been called one of the hardest working players in the game, and physically is most likely in great shape. He wants to play each and every game, and hates to be pulled even if it’s his team not performing as the cause. But is his mental state fresh when it needs to be especially come April, May and June. While playing 65 games doesn’t seem to be tiresome physically to Luongo, it seems to be apparent that reducing his playing time might be a solution. Or is it?
Is it fair to blame all the loses in these crucial times on Bobby Lou? Let’s face it, the Canucks as a team have some issues besides their goaltender. The Sedins who appear to be sparkling during the regular season, seem to be invisible come playoff time when needed most. Their play in the finals against Boston was a non factor, as they were complete no shows for most of the series. The Blackhawks have pretty much figured out how to neutralize the twins very effectively. Vancouver’s efforts to play it rough with the Hawks in 2009 got them knocked out of the playoffs as the Hawks taught them a lesson in power play proficiency and trash talk. Lesson not learned, in 2010 Vancouver couldn’t contain their behavior again, and that combined with Big Buff making Lou’s life miserable in front of the net, lost again.
Vancouver hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since their entrance into the league in 1970-1971. It’s a string that’s running 41 years, and while some feel that they have what it takes to challenge again this year, I highly doubt they do. Roberto’s numbers in the regular season have been superb (did I just say that?), as have been some of his teammates (the Sedins, Ryan Kessler, Alex Burrows). Something however seems to happen to them in the post season that prevents them from reaching the final destination of Stanley Cup Champion. Now that David Booth has been united with Ryan Kessler and Chris Higgins, it scares me to think that some people in Vancouver feel that the “All American” line will vault them to their first championship. No offence to any of the players mentioned, but as an observation, something is missing from this team.
If you follow me on Twitter, and you know my sarcastic ways, you know that I’m not a fan of the Canucks and or Lou. I’m smart enough however to know that the problem however runs deeper than just him. The team itself needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they have ever let down their goalie during these mentally tough times. As mentioned before, the pressure to win in Vancouver is imense, and for some, it just may be too much. The issue with Luongo is not only his play, but his contract that has another 11 years to go at $5.3 million per after this season. Included in that contract is a good old fashioned no trade clause, and if memory serves me right, it has some special language in it as well about where and who or the amount of teams he’ll consider being traded to.
With a young and seemingly capable Cory Schneider waiting in the wings, Canuck fans must be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Part of the question is while Schneider appears capable, can he handle the workload of a starter and play the required 55-65 regular season games in addition to the playoffs. Looking further as much as people want to lay all the blame on Roberto, it wouldn’t be fair to leave the rest of the team completely off the hook. It is easier however to point fingers at one person instead of 20. And we haven’t even begun to talk about head coach Alain Vigneault.
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