Canucks OK with goalie 'controversy'

Nobody gets more scrutiny in the NHL than the goaltenders for the Vancouver Canucks, Roberto Luongo...

Nobody gets more scrutiny in the NHL than the goaltenders for the Vancouver Canucks, Roberto Luongo (pictured) and Cory Schneider. (Al Charest/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:20 PM ET

MONTREAL - Nobody around the Vancouver Canucks wants to use the "C-word."

Well, except captain Henrik Sedin.

"It's great. If you want a goalie controversy, then it's a goalie controversy," Sedin said Thursday. "If you don't want that, it's awesome. As a team, we feel great about it. It doesn't matter who's in net, we're confident about them."

It is the position that gets the most scrutiny in the NHL and nobody gets more scrutiny than the goaltenders for the Vancouver Canucks.

People watch because they want to see the slightest sign of a nervous tick in the game of Roberto Luongo, the guy who has a contract through 2022 and still teeters between albatross and saviour (with many leaning towards the former).

They want to watch because with each start by young Cory Schneider, people wonder what's going to happen at the end of this season, when he is poised to become a restricted free agent and -- with his numbers -- due a big raise.

Luongo did little Thursday night to quell the questions about who should be starting in the Canucksí 4-3 win in a shootout over the Montreal Canadiens. He got interfered with on the Habsí first goal, was screened -- maybe by his own guy -- on the second, but fanned on Erik Coleís shot from the wing that made it 3-0 2:20 into the second. His teammates picked him up, battling back to tie it on a power-play goal by Sami Salo with less than five minutes left in regulation time and then Luongo stopped all three Habs shooters in the shootout.

"Obviously the third goal I wasn't too happy with myself with that one," said Luongo, "but I was able to shut the door afterwards and the boys had a gutsy effort to climb back in the game and tie it up."

Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said he spoke with Luongo before the shootout.

"I kind of chirped him," he said, " 'time to mix in a win in the shootout.' "

What will happen in the not too distant future with the Canucks' goaltending makes for good talk, but it isnít a worry for the club right now. It's just fodder for those who follow last spring's Stanley Cup finalists, a playoff run that saw Luongo stick his foot in his mouth almost as often has he put it in front of a puck.

Mark Recchi, now retired from the Boston Bruins after they beat the Canucks to win the Cup, said in all his years in the NHL, the Canucks were the most arrogant and most hated team he played against.

Luongo didn't do much to deter that perception last spring, so there were no doubt many detractors who have enjoyed his typically slow start to the season, which has seen him split playing time with Schneider (going into Thursday night's game against the Canadiens, Luongo had played 851 minutes to Schneider's 771).

The fact of the matter is Luongo has always had a slow start -- his goals-against average the last four Octobers has hovered around three (3.54 this year) and his record for the last four years in the first month of the season is 17-16-3.

The Canucks' coaching staff has tried modifying training camp and a bunch of other things to try and help Luongo get off to better starts, but now have reluctantly come to grimly accept his year will get off to a slow start.

This October was particularly bad and opened the door for the 25-year-old Schneider to continue his ascent to bonafide NHL goaltender.

"(He's) a franchise goaltender. The players love playing in front of him," said one member of the Canucks crew Thursday.

"He had my back when I played a few games in a row there and never said a bad word or anything and waited his turn," Schneider said of Luongo. "Now he looks like he's right back on track. We're both pulling for each other. A lot of times, people try to divide us and make it seem like there's a rift. We're good friends. We're teammates. We enjoy each other's success."

Schneider started six games in a row between Nov. 16-29, in part because of a minor rib injury sustained by Luongo and then because of a stretch of five games in which he gave up just four goals.

Luongo came back and gave up three goals on 15 shots and was yanked in his return, allowed one in a win over the Calgary Flames and then combined with Schneider on a shutout of the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday after Luongo started, but left after taking a slapper to the throat.

"Nothing changes for me. I work hard every day in practice and get ready as if I'm going to play. That's it. If I start, I'm ready to go and if I don't, I'll still be ready in case something happens. Like I said many times before, I'm not putting my personal agendas in front of the team. I'm all about the Vancouver Canucks and winning hockey games. At the end of the day, that's all that matters."

For now.

As the months roll by, it's going to get more and more interesting.

THE FALL AND RISE OF LUONGO

Roberto Luongo

OctoberNovemberDecember
Record3-3-14-2-02-1-0
GAA3.542.301.96
Save%.869.924.920
Cory Schneider

OctoberNovemberDecember
Record2-2-05-2-00-0-0
GAA1.971.903.22
Save%.927.942.880

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