After some deliberation and much speculation, Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault has elected to start goaltender Cory Schneider instead of Roberto Luongo for the critical Game 4 matchup against the Los Angeles Kings with his team facing the harsh reality of possibly becoming the first President's Trophy Winner to be swept out of the playoffs in the first round.
The decision comes after Schneider looked good in a 1-0 loss to the Kings in Game 3 where he stopped 19 of the 20 shots he faced. Only Dustin Brown's shot into a wide open net after Schneider kicked out a rebound right to his stick found its way into the back of the net, but it was enough for the Kings to claim a 3-0 strangehold on the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Schneider is the right choice for the Canucks in Game 4—but maybe not for the reasons you would expect.
Yes, the statistics indicate that Schneider has been the better goalie. Luongo has a 3.59 GAA and a .891 save percentage in his two playoff outings, whereas Schneider sports a 1.03 GAA and a .950 save percentage in his one appearance so far.
But Roberto Luongo is not the reason the Canucks are down 3-0 in this series.
In fact, he's largely been hung out to dry by the skaters in front of him, and for once he isn't being treated like a scapegoat for poor postseason play for the Canucks by fans and media alike.
He was sharp in Game 1 and kept Vancouver in a game where they were sorely outplayed. He even played well enough in Game 2 to win the game if he received more goal support from an offense that has the impossible task of cracking the Kings' defense and Jonathan Quick's ability to stop seemingly everything that comes his way.
The supposed Achilles heel for the Kings entering this series was their lack of goal support for Quick. And that's what this series has come down to—goal support. But that which was supposed to be a weakness for L.A. has actually been the biggest problem with Vancouver's game.
Even in Schneider's one appearance in this series, he started only because Vigneault was looking for some sort of spark for his team who had lost two straight home games. Schneider, like Luongo, played well enough to win—but the Canucks couldn't solve Quick, who stopped all 41 shots fired by Vancouver and took the 1-0 shutout victory and the 3-0 series lead.
But the statistics and the performance so far in this series aren't the reason why Vancouver is smart to go with Schneider tonight in Game 4 in a "win or go down in infamy" game.
They know what Luongo is capable of—they've seen him over the course of many regular season and playoff games. He is a known commodity, and one that Vancouver valued enough at one time to sign to a 12-year, $64 million contract that still has 10 years left on it at over $5 million per year.
That contract will be almost impossible to move in the offseason, so the Canucks are faced with a choice—find a way to pay both Luongo and Schneider while ostensibly flipping their starting/backup or 1A/1B roles or deal Schneider in the offseason.
Unlike Luongo, Schneider is not a known commodity. He has never been a permanent starting goalie in the NHL, and he has never played more than 33 games during a regular season. He has only six NHL playoff appearances to his credit, and though he has looked fantastic in limited action, that is in a unique situation where he is not expected to carry the load. More of the pressure lies on Luongo with that aforementioned large contract and an undeserved reputation as a playoff choker.
So, either Vancouver keeps Schneider after this season, and he benefits from some more playoff games this year (including tonight)—or, they play him to make him even more attractive trade bait than he already was.
As has been noted by the Vancouver media, if Philadelphia were looking to land Schneider, the price would be Claude Giroux. Add a few more solid playoff outings to his already impressive resume, and Vancouver could demand a king's ransom and then some for Schneider—and actually get it.