Enough with the crazy talk, Luongo is still the best choice
He is in his prime, has been the league's most consistent goalie and plays for the host city, what else do you really need?
BY JASON BOTCHFORD, THE PROVINCE
MAY 22, 2009
Since his rookie season, Roberto Luongo has been the league's most consistent goalie and proved he can compete at an elite level with the likes of other Team Canada potentials Martin Brodeur, Cam Ward and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick file, NHL/Getty Images
Roberto Luongo had barely taken his pads off for the last time this season before the questions started about his status as the favourite to be Team Canada's No. 1 goalie at the 2010 Olympics.
Hockey commentators have seemed just a little too eager to make Luongo's last playoff game one which will define him.
Some even called up Steve Yzerman for reaction immediately after Luongo gave up seven goals to the Chicago Blackhawks. It came across like your younger brother running home to gleefully tell dad you failed a math test.
Forget all the reasons why Luongo remains the best candidate to be Team Canada's starter: He is in his prime, has been the NHL's most consistent goalie this century and is playing for the city which will host the Games.
He gave up seven goals in an elimination game, with the Olympics just a year away.
Luongo said it will take him a long time to forget the wretched feeling he was left with after the Canucks defensive meltdown in Chi-town. The media will make sure of it. Because if Luongo can't handle the pressure of Game 6 in the second round of the playoffs, how can anyone expect him to deal with the burden that comes with a gold medal showdown?
But, it should be noted, if Team Canada's defence is anywhere near as abysmal as the Canucks' blueline was during Game 6, there won't be any medal game to worry about.
Not only has Luongo's status as a possible 2010 starter been questioned, some have suggested his spot on the roster is in jeopardy. We can only hope other countries, say Russia, put this much thought into things. Pavel Datsyuk hasn't scored in 11 playoff games. Maybe they could leave him behind. Or how about Evgeni Malkin? He disappeared last season when his team needed him most, tanking in the first five games of the Stanley Cup Finals. Clearly, he's not a big game performer. Leave him in Pittsburgh. Canada should be so lucky.
Any goalie can have a bad game. Most are allowed to move on. Just ask Cam Ward.
Ward is hockey's latest golden goalie. He's the shiny toy recently rediscovered by a gushing media. But where has Mr. Clutch been since winning the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie in 2006? Not in the playoffs.
Maybe the two years the Hurricanes missed the postseason had more to do with the team around him. Then again, maybe Ward's inconsistency was part of the problem. When he's on, Ward is dazzling. He's calm and brilliant, all at once. That's the goalie we've seen since the all-star break. There is none better. But when he's cold, he has struggled for months.
Ward has yet to lose a playoff series, so he deserves the big-game crown bestowed on him so far this postseason. But it was just last year when he was between the pipes for a historic Team Canada collapse at the World Hockey Championships. Canada was up 4-2 with less than 12 minutes left, before Russia stormed back winning 5-4 in overtime.
People have been wondering why Luongo should be the favourite to start for Team Canada. What's he won? What has he proven?
Luongo hasn't won a championship, so what he's accomplished may not be as impressive, but it should be just as worthy.
Since his rookie season when he started just 20 games, Luongo has been the league's most consistent goalie. Year in and year out he has produced at an elite level. His worst save percentage is a solid .914, which he posted in a tumultuous final year in Florida.
That's why most of his peers consider him the best in the game. Because despite playing for some terrible teams, he has performed at such a high level for such a long time.
Since the lockout, Luongo has a .918 save percentage. It ranks him third in the NHL among the 32 goalies who have played the most games. By comparison, Ward ranks 22nd, with a .903 save percentage. Ward trails some dubious company, including Manny Legace and Martin Gerber.
In the coming months, there will be a lot of debate about who should start in net for Team Canada -- Ward, Luongo or Brodeur. Many will try to shoehorn rookie Steve Mason into the conversation, dismissing his struggles down the stretch and his torching in the first round of the playoffs.
There's no getting around the fact that whoever is the 2010 starting goalie will be a gamble of sorts. Ward has struggled with inconsistency, Brodeur isn't getting younger and no one seems willing to forget those seven goals Luongo let in against Chicago.
But the secret to gambling is to reduce risk, and that's what Team Canada has to do when it makes its choice.