If Not Him Than Who?
In the minds of many, the goaltender is too unstable to be relied upon. For every highlight of his time in Vancouver, there’s a comparable lowlight. Despite the Vezina nominations, the gold medal, and the 2 shutouts in the finals there is also the 7uongo, Luon8o, and the road games in the finals.
For many, this instability will prevent Luongo from ever leading to the Canucks to the Stanley Cup and his retirement contract is an Albatross. It’s led to longing for a change and jealously over the perceived stability of the other elite goalies in the league.
But is the crease bluer on the other side?
Ilya Bryzgalov signed a massive contract with Philadelphia in the off season only to break down in a wild 9-8 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Bryzgalov admitted after the game he had lost all confidence in his game. The Flyers responded by shielding Bryzgalov from the media so much that the NHL had to intervene to enforce existing media policies.
Ryan Miller has had such a horrible start to the year that Jhonas Enroth has almost usurped him in Buffalo. Miller sounded off to the media that he was here to win, only the real quote is unprintable.
Sandwiched between his Vezina Trophies, Tim Thomas lost his starting job to Tuuka Rask in 2009-10.
Before Cary Price’s breakout year, his relationship with Habs fans could be understatedly be called strained.
Nikolai Khabibulin will probably not keep up his torrid pace but he’s already made most forget about his boozy troubles last year.
In short, goaltending is a slippery position.
The winners and losers are in constant flux and to expect linear progress in the sport is about as useful as expecting Brian Elliott to earn a Vezina nomination this year.
With that in mind, let’s attempt to measure the unquantifiable.
Let’s start with Ryan Miller, the goalie Luongo beat in the most pressure-filled game ever played at Rogers Arena.
In 59 playoff games, Luongo has let in five or more goals nine times. In 47 games, Miller has done the same seven times. For both, that’s 15% of their playoff starts.
In elimination games, Luongo’s save percentage is .893. Miller’s is .867.
Furthering the field, we can attempt to classify playoff performances into three categories.
- A-type games of save percentages over .920
- B-type games of .880 to .919 and
- C-types of sub .880.
As we can see, Luongo is statistically more reliable than other goaltender measured, trailing only Mikka Kiprusoff and his nemesis Tim Thomas.
In games that the Canucks won during the run, Luongo’s goals against was a miniscule 1.60.
So why the losses?
Save percentage is admittedly a tricky stat to qualify which is why a St Lawrence University professor devised a metric called the ‘defense independent goalie rating’. Michael Shuckers mapped every shot a goaltender faced during the 2010-2011 season and plotted them against every shot taken in the NHL taken that year to determine how goalies would fare against any shot faced.
Of goalies who faced more than 1000 shots, Nikolai Khabibulin placed last with a.900 DIGR so it can’t be completely wrong.
Tim Thomas is of course at the top of the list but also was aided by facing the 8th easiest shot quality of the 49 goaltenders represented. Second is Cory Schneider despite Schneider facing the toughest shot quality of the entire group. Third is Roberto Luongo with the sixth toughest shot quality measure.
Consider also that in 10 playoff losses last Spring the Vancouver Canucks scored just 15 goals. It shouldn’t be shocking that when you score at a rate of a goal and a half a game you end up losing.
The Vancouver Canucks scored just 8 goals over the course of the Finals. For Luongo to have covered for that rate of production he would have had to put together a performance that would have rivaled Patrick Roy in his prime.
In the past 14 years, just three teams have been outscored in the Finals and lost.
Boston themselves came into the Finals scoring 3.22 goals per game and won the cup by raising that average by just 0.07. Vancouver came in with a pace of 2.75 goals per game and saw that number drop to 2.32 after Game 7. Every other team higher than a six seed in either conference last year averaged more than 3 goals a game.
So we can conclude only that hockey is a team game and that Roberto Luongo is human.
Despite a blueline that contained both Keith Ballard and Kevin Bieksa, a busted Sami Salo, an injured Dan Hamhuis, and a suspended Aaron Rome, Luongo was one game away from stealing the cup from Boston despite all statistical probablity.
An early goal in game 7 and perhaps the Canucks win the cup despite a preteen amount of goals throughout the series.
Consider last Sunday’s affair with the Chicago Blackhawks.
On the road in a building that holds many of his skeletons, Roberto Luongo let in a Michael Frolik goal in the first that was as strange as it was familar.
There again was the Cloutier-esque shock and the defeated slump off the shoulders.
But a funny thing happened. The Canucks scored five goals after that, four on the powerplay. The final was 6-2 and no one was talking about the Frolik goal after the game.
Thanks to powerplay production unseen in the Finals, Luongo was not forced to tread a razor thin margin of error.
Henrik Sedin had 22 points in 25 playoff games but 12 of those points came against San Jose.
Of Daniel’s 20 points in 30 games, six were in the Western Conference Finals.
The Sedins combined for five points in the Finals yet the criticism is directed towards Luongo.
The problem is that when the Sedins are ineffective, they’re invisible. No lights go off or fanfare ensues when they fail to score. Luongo’s mistakes are replayed endlessly.
Luongo is a victim of the burden of expectations.
We shouldn’t expect nor need him to be a hybrid of Roy, Martin Brodeur & Dominik Hasek and it doesn’t help when he’s crucified for not being that.
The finals were ultimately embarrassing for a number of reasons and Luongo shoulders some of that blame but I wouldn’t expect the Canucks would have won the cup if Tim Thomas was in net instead.
Not unless we swapped and the Bruins were playing Luongo.