Is It Just Me: Or Should Roberto Luongo Start in Minnesota?

Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo: Starter or backup?

Alain Vigneault is expected to start Cory Schneider for the second straight game tonight in Minnesota, giving Roberto Luongo a rest to begin Vancouver’s last road trip of the regular season. Traditionally a little time off this late in the season would be great for a goaltender who has been relied on so much so far this season, but one can’t help but wonder if Alain Vigneault is hiding his starter from the ghosts of the Xcel Energy Center tonight in Minnesota.

The last time Schneider received back-to-back starts for the Canucks was in late November, after the backup shut out the Phoenix Coyotes only to turn around and beat the San Jose Sharks the next night. So why now, why on game 70 against one of the worst teams in the league?

Because Luongo falls apart in the land of a thousand lakes.

Over the last five years Vancouver’s franchise goaltender has only one game worth remembering from the Xcel Energy Center. Luongo allowed six goals against during his last start in Minnesota a season ago, and has been sheltered from the Xcel Center ever since.

A year previous to his late-October collapse, Luongo allowed ten goals over two games in Minnesota during the 2009-10 season, posting an aggregate .804 save percentage and 6.17 goals-against average.

In fact, the last solid game Luongo started in Minnesota occurred almost three years ago in a late-March game against the Wild. Luongo allowed one goal on 34 shots that night, keeping the ghosts of the Xcel Energy Center at bay in a pre-playoff matchup.

Yet tonight in Minnesota the same scenario offers itself to the Canucks, and Alain Vigneault has once again elected to start his backup against the Wild. Isn’t it about time the franchise’s starting goaltender faces his fears and starts a game against the notoriously talented Wild?

Considering Schneider is likely a summer away from finding himself another home, Vigneault’s choice to sit his starter appears short-sighted. Luongo’s body could surely use the rest heading into another grueling post-season, but what happens to the Canucks next time he absolutely has to strap on the pads in Minnesota, or any other hostile arena?

Imagine for a second that Cory Schneider moves on from Vancouver this summer, and a year from now the Canucks finish the regular season atop the Western Conference, matched up against the Wild who have managed to sneak into the 8th spot.

What then? What of the Canucks outside the comfortable confines of Rogers Arena? Does Luongo lose all confidence and implode like he did in Boston just last Spring?

The Canucks cannot expect to win a Stanley Cup without the confidence of their starting goaltender night-in and night-out, wherever the game is played. While Alain Vigneault has become a master of optimization with the Canucks, two points tonight in Minnesota is a minuscule reward compared to the long-run implications of Roberto Luongo’s lost confidence.

Win or lose tonight in Minnesota Alain Vigneault has missed another opportunity to give his starting goaltender a vote of confidence heading into a crucial playoff run, one that will land squarely on the shoulders of Roberto Luongo come April.

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About the Author: Kevin Vanstone is a long time sports fan and Canucks die hard from White Rock, British Columbia. He is currently attending the University of Victoria pursuing a Writing degree, and in his spare time writes about all things Canucks hockey as well as news and notes from around the NHL.

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