It’s December 4th, 2011. The Canucks are playing the hated rival Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena. Roberto Luongo skates onto the ice with his team taking laps before the singing of the Canadian National anthem. It is his first star since the middle of November. What had started out as time away from the ice due to an injury has turned into a goalie controversy that has seen Luongo as a patient and supportive teammate to friend and backup Cory Schneider.
Schneider played with the skill of the all-star he is and not the backup he’s labelled as, making it near impossible for Coach Vigneault to sit him out. Luongo understood, finding more frustration in his talks with the media about the situation than about the situation itself. Now, after Schneider faltered on Friday night, Luongo finally gets a start in net. And performed well only allowing one goal while making 21 saves, with the crowd chanting “Luuuuu” for each and every one of the 21 saves.
Sure the one goal he let in was a weak one, but he made up for it with some solid saves allowing his team to get going. The Canucks finally got their legs going and ended the night with a 5-1 win. Another beating of the hapless and floundering Calgary Flames. What once was a heated rivalry has become a one-sided affair.
The win was good for the club, for Luongo who showed no rust. But this win won’t mean anything, not to Luongo, not to the team, not to the fans, not concerning Luongo’s legacy. What Luongo needs is to have a strong playoffs to cement that.
Over the past three years the Canucks have been obliterated in elimination games in the playoffs with Luongo being the chief culprit among a group of poorly performing teammates. Weak goals have seemed to deflate the Canucks with leadership nowhere to seen. This isn’t Luongo’s fault alone, but he seems to be the gravitational force receiving most the criticism. The problem being that he is the goalie, he is the focal point of the team’s poor performances.
Sure Luongo was excellent in the Canucks three wins versus Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals last June, probably the Canucks best player, but he was also arguable their worst player in their four losses. A contrast that makes stability for a team near impossible. As I’ve stated before, this probably is just as much Vigneault’s fault for mismanaging Luongo as it is Luongo’s fault. But overall he needs to be more consistent, especially when it matters most. He needs to be better in the playoffs, he knows he needs to be better in the playoffs, and his legacy as a great Canuck will only be established when that happens.