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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Canucks - Schneider, Luongo & the Detroit Red Wings

As I reported in a previous article (“The Luongo Question”), on January 7, 2012 the Canucks rolled into Boston to play the Bruins in their first rematch since last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Coach Alain Vigneault decided to play Cory Schneider in the game, and perhaps he did so hoping that his poor decision in Game 6 last year to play Luongo would be justified with a loss by Schneider—and allow him to sleep better for the rest of his life. Well, in that January 7 contest Schneider and the Canucks played a great game and came out on top 4-3. Schneider had proven again that he is excellent on the road, just as he did last year. Schneider also played well in almost all of his home starts, having just one tough night in several games played.

This past Tuesday (Jan. 31) Vigneault decided that he would test Schneider at home against their second biggest foe: the Blackhawks. Of course we know the history between the two teams, with the Blackhawks beating the Canucks in 6 games in the second playoff round in the 2008-2009 season, the Blackhawks doing the identical thing in the 2009-2010 season, and the Canucks finally beating them last year in the first round and in Game 7 in OT—Burrows slapping the rolling puck past Crawford, and Jim Hughson proclaiming “It’s a wonderful day for an exorcism!” The Canucks almost blew that series and I still recall Vigneault’s expression when the Canucks won the game, and it was directed towards the players and indicated: “Well we did it the hardest way possible, and got lucky. Why the hell did you cause me so much STRESS…..!”—funny but absolutely true.

In getting back to last Tuesday, the game went into OT and Daniel Sedin snapped the winner for a 3-2 victory. Let's have a look. Please click the link and after the video is over please click the back arrow in your browser to return to my site. Thanks to YouTube (Google).

Schneider was absolutely outstanding, letting in only 2 goals in 39 shots, and he also successfully faced the only two power-plays in the game. Schneider was named the game’s 1st Star and who can argue when his Save Percentage was 0.949. Though a regular season game, it was a tremendous confidence-builder for the entire Canuck team, and showed Vigneault that he could rely on Schneider against the Blackhawks. In the two 2010-2011 regular season games in Vancouver between the teams, the Blackhawks won 7-1 in the first, and the Canucks won 4-3 in the second. Luongo had been pulled in the first game.

Vigneault is obviously aware that Schneider has played far better than Luongo this year, and all that Canuck fans need to hope for is that Vigneault will put the best goalie in net when playoff time comes around, rather than the goalie who is being paid the most money. Vigneault realizes that he is going to have to play Schneider if they face Boston, for games in the Garden; and, he may want to play him against the Blackhawks if they meet them for a fourth straight year.

I am hoping that Schneider gets to start in the playoffs for the Canucks because I did not like Luongo’s mental collapse last year and because Schneider has easily outplayed Lu this year. In fact, there are about 18 goalies in the league who have outplayed Lu, while on the other hand Schneider rates anywhere from 6th to 8th in the league depending on who is judging. Schneider has worked hard and deserves the call.  

It is a great thing to have tough competition between the goalies because it generally increases their efforts and results in better goaltending and more wins. Although that has not proven to be true for part of the year with Luongo, it was true on Thursday evening because he played one of his best games of the season against the Red Wings, subsequently enabling the Canucks to tie the game and go to a SO. Unfortunately they lost the shootout, but the best team won this contest as the Red Wings out-shot the Canucks 43 to 25. Luongo’s Save Percentage was 0.930 and he was the game’s 3rd Star. Both Schneider and Luongo have played well this year against the Red Wings but unfortunately the rest of the team has fallen short (despite winning one of the games).

RED WINGS PROBLEM

Vigneault and his staff need to get together and spend a lot of time examining tapes and working with the team so that they can play a lot better against the Red Wings. Unless the Sharks play the Red Wings in the playoffs and beat them for the third straight year, the Canucks are likely to face the Wings, and that would be a problem because the Wings are out-shooting the Canucks by a wide margin every game. Here are the results of the first three meetings in the regular season between the Canucks and Wings, and also the date of the fourth meeting. By the way, I am aware of the strength of the Blues this year but both the Canucks and Red Wings have been successful against them thus far.

Game 1:  October 13, 2011. Vancouver at Detroit and the Wings won 2-0. The Wings had 37 shots on net while the Canucks only had 25 shots.

Game 2:  December 21, 2011. Detroit at Vancouver and the Canucks won the game 4-2 but Detroit had 40 shots on goal as compared to Vancouver’s 25 shots.

Game 3:  February 2, 2012. Detroit at Vancouver and the Wings won the game 4-3 in a shootout. Detroit had 43 shots on goal while the Canucks once again had 25 shots (for the third game in a row against the Wings).

Game 4:  Will be played February 23rd in Detroit.    

As I stated, that is a huge difference in offensive output between the two teams. It has been the great goaltending of Luongo and Schneider that have kept them in these games. It will be interesting to see if the Canucks make some changes before the next game against the Wings in February.

TJ Stanley