If the Canucks’ goaltending situation is a controversy, they should look at creating a few more.
The overwrought soap opera created by having two star goaltenders on the same team was supposed to cripple the Canucks, or at least distract them.
Instead, it has carried them.
Oh, make no mistake, Cory Schneider vs. Roberto Luongo is a rivalry. It’s just among the friendliest, most productive rivalries in sports.
“There’s nothing like somebody pushing you, forcing you to be as good as they are, upping your compete level,” Schneider said. “This is what we’ve been doing for each other the past two years. You want to be as good as the guy next to you. You don’t want to be the guy who lays an egg and lets the team down.
“I don’t know if it’s openly like that, but he and I enjoy the whole, ‘He did it, now I have to go do it’ dynamic. We use that as motivation.”
Well, it’s worked.
It hasn’t always been this smooth or, as Schneider suggests, enjoyable. Take the time Luongo was on the bench for three consecutive playoff games in April. That may not have pleased him, but it did motivate him. And it changed him.
It forced him to re-evaluate his game, and because of it, at 33, Luongo again made a round of substantive alterations to his game. He tracked down Francois Allaire, the goalie coach who he first met when he was 14. They hadn’t worked together in any real way in years. But this past offseason they spent eight weeks side by side in Florida, working four days a week.
Luongo got a little inspiration from Schneider for the changes he’s made. To simplify things, he wanted more balance, appreciating the way Schneider was able to keep his core over top of his knees as he moved from post to post in his butterfly.
The results have been dramatic. Luongo is off to the best start of his career. In his first seven games, he was only scored on 10 times. None of them were McSofties, the label given to the “how the heck did that go in?” goals which seemed to beat him regularly in the past two years.
Through the first three weeks of the season, there are maybe two goals you could even question, both courtesy of Edmonton Oilers: the Ales Hemsky goal on Feb. 4 and the Jordan Eberle backhander which beat Luongo on Jan. 20, catching the goalie cheating on a backdoor play.
There’s been less Luongo lunging. He’s been reaching less and, except for a couple of plays, no one has seen him on his belly.
That the veteran was able to tweak his game on the fly this late in his career shouldn’t be surprising. Being open to change has long been one of Luongo’s more undervalued characteristics.
When Rollie Melanson arrived as Canucks goalie coach in 2010, Luongo embraced some of his ideas, most notably playing deeper in the net and using more T-pushes to get across the crease. It improved him and helped the Canucks get to the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
It’s not just his game that Luongo has improved. His jokes are getting better and more widely circulated through his Twitter account. More frequently, too.