You didn’t think the Cory Schneider/Roberto Luongo goaltending debate was going away any time soon, did you?
Luongo, the man many believe the Vancouver Canucks eventually will ship out during this 48-game National Hockey League season, is certainly making things interesting.
Who would have thought the former No. 1 goalie, who was supposed to be traded by now, would have started three of the Canucks’ first seven games and will get the nod for the third straight contest Friday over Cory Schneider?
Well, believe it. And Luongo, 33, is also outplaying his 26-year-old teammate.
Luongo clearly does not relish a reserve role, having not been a backup goalie since age 16 during his rookie season with Val-d’Or in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I just get ready to play every day and when I’m called upon, I just want to be ready,” Luongo, whose name has been linked to trade rumours in Florida, Philadelphia and Toronto in recent months, told reporters before turning aside 24 shots in a 3-0 Vancouver win over Colorado on Wednesday.
Luongo has appeared in four games, started three, and has yet to lose in regulation, going 1-0-2 with a sparkling 1.61 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
Schneider, meanwhile, didn’t waste time posting a stinker, getting pulled in a season-opening 7-3 loss to Anaheim on Jan. 19 after allowing five goals on 14 shots. He is 2-2-0 in four starts this season with a 3.13 GAA and .897 save percentage.
Still, Luongo was more comfortable talking about the team’s goalie situation 14 months ago when he was sharing the crease with a less-proven Schneider.
“It kind of reminds me of running backs in the NFL, more and more teams are going with a two-running-back system,” Luongo said in December 2011.
“The schedule is so demanding, especially out west, with the travel and the number of games, and we had a long run last year. We need both guys to be in there and playing well. Also, you never know, injuries can happen.”
They can, and this might be a big reason Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has yet to move either Schneider or Luongo. Or, maybe he’s waiting for Luongo to have a longer stretch of success to create a bigger market for the 12-year NHL veteran, whose annual salary cap charge is $5.33 million US through the 2021-22 season.
You would think Gillis is determined to create room for Schneider and salary cap space, given Vancouver’s 19-goal output in seven starts and its current injury situation with left-winger David Booth (groin) sidelined and centre Ryan Kesler’s return date from off-season shoulder and wrist surgeries unknown.
But Schneider isn’t co-operating and Vigneault might not be comfortable running with a struggling goalie when points are precious in a lockout-shortened campaign.
The coach is careful in his words these days, not wanting to be the guy who starts a goalie controversy.
“Tonight, Louie is No. 1,” Vigneault said Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into all the logistics of what goes into making a decision.”
Schneider chose to downplay the situation.
“It’s something we’re accustomed to,” he said, “and I think the guys in this room believe in both of us.”
Fans soon could find out who Gillis and Vigneault believe in, for now and long-term.