Written by: Larry “The Nucks IceMan” Johnson
I bet I have written more articles on Roberto Luongo than on the other team members combined. In order to shine some light on this title’s question I thought I would rewind back to when it all started.
With the arrival of Luongo through the infamous trade, Vancouver finally had a top ranked goaltender that they had coveted. But this was not the high scoring team of years gone by, nope, the Canucks were going to need more than Luongo to be competitive. To say that the Canucks were offensively challenged was an understatement during the 2006-07 season, when they finished 21st in goals-for.
Now Coach Alain Vigneault was nobody’s fool, as he quickly realized his team would have trouble winning with a pop gun offense. So he did what any intelligent coach would do and installed a system that would succeed. But this was only going to happen if the players bought in, and led by their captain Markus Naslund, they did.
Many people called it the dreaded “trap” while the more knowledgeable had a number of other names for it. Hockey jargon termed it the left wing lock, two-one-two, one-two-two, clogging up the neutral zone and so forth.
Whatever you want to call it, the system worked, as the Canucks who were suppose to be fighting for last place in the West, not only made the playoffs, they won the Northwest Division with 105 points going 49W-26L-and 7OT.
For Luongo this was to be a career year as he appeared in 76 games and produced 5 SO, 47W, 22L, 6T, 2.28GAA and a .921 Sv%. He was also nominated for the Hart and Vezina Trophy but failed to win either one. This was also the last time that he would play in 76 games.
The Canucks finished sixth in the NHL in goals-against and special teams had the number one PK, but due to their limited offense, they finished in 20th spot on the PP.
Was it a coincidence that Luongo had his best year ever and the team had success through its defensive system? No, there is a correlation between the two and if you don’t think so, go have a look at any of the teams that Jacques Lemaire coached.
The next season saw the stats of Luo and the Canucks decrease as they ran into long term injuries to their defense and missed the playoffs. Their goals-against were a respectable seventh in the NHL but their goals-for fell to 23rd.
That was also the start of the free fall of their special teams, which would take several seasons to once again get back into the top ten.
As for Luongo, his stats were: 2.36GAA, .917 Sv% in 2007-08; 2.34GAA, .920 Sv% in 2008-09 and 2.57GAA, .913 Sv% in 2009-10. The Canucks in turn did not make it back to near the top until last season (2009-10) when they finished second in goals for and 12th in goals against.
What had changed since the first two seasons that Luongo played in Vancouver? Well for one thing, the offense, as kids like Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond, Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa and others started to blossom and bear fruit, from which a second line was born.
The one-line Canucks known as the Sedins and Partner, were now going to be joined by someone else to help provide scoring. Amen to that.
With that Vigneault loosened the ropes on the defensive system so the defense was more prominent in the attack and would jump up to join the rushes. But also with that it seemed the Canucks had gone too far the other way and had forgotten entirely the system that had earned them earlier success. Two playoff seasons have seen them two and out with the Chicago Blackhawks providing the Canucks with the early exits.
Did the Canucks receive the goaltending that was needed, or was the team’s defense and depth more likely the problem? That’s a question that you could debate for days, but it should become crystal clear by the end of this season.
So here we are in the current season and the Canucks have just rattled off a 9-1-1 record, they are 19W, 8L, 4OTand third in the Conference, two points behind Detroit.
In the NHL rankings they are fifth in goals-for and seventh in goals-against. To me, those stats are the tell tale picture of how a team is playing and not so much the goaltender. Otherwise, Luongo’s NHL stats – third with 16 wins, 14th in GAA – 2.40 and 21st in Sv% – .914, would all be in the top ten.
In conclusion, Luongo is a very good goaltender and has been instrumental in this streak and should be acknowledged for his part. But if the team continues to play their strong defensive type game supported by the scoring, then Lou doesn’t have to be great, just good.
Therefore the answer to the opening question is — it’s the team defense!
To catch all the news, updates and new articles as they occur, along with the Canucks farm team the Manitoba Moose, you can follow me @twitter.com/nucksiceman.com and @communities.canada.com/VANCOUVERSUN/blogs/fanattic/default.aspx
Filed under: Vancouver Canucks