Roberto Luongo played in Canada's first game of the Olympics, an 8-0 shutout over Norway. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Team Canada’s not dead at these Olympics – but some resuscitation certainly wouldn’t hurt.
A 5-3 loss to the Americans exposed goaltender Martin Brodeur and the only answer for the Canucks is to look to the Canuck: Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo.
Brodeur’s wanton puckhandling and uncharacteristic skittishness was bad against the Americans, but imagine what a repeat performance would look like against Russian wizards Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Semin, Pavel Datsyuk…whoa…this list is getting too long; all the more reason to go with Luongo the rest of the tourney.
Before the Canadians even confront the Russians in what will be the quarterfinal no one wanted to see (Sid and Ovie can’t even battle each other for a medal now), they will have to get past Germany in a play-in match. This extra game for Canada actually makes the Luongo decision that much easier for coach Mike Babcock.
The punchless Germans have scored just three goals in three games so far – all of which came in a 5-3 loss to Belarus. They’re also not particularly solid at the other end of the rink so it should be a cakewalk for Canada.
Common wisdom going into the Olympics was that goalie changes after the first two games were unwise because of the long layoff it would cause for NHL starters who are used to playing every two or three days. But the unexpected play-in game lets Canada reset.
Luongo can get his groove back against Germany, face maybe 15 or 20 shots, then go right back into the crease the next night to face mighty Russia. A bit of an uptick in competition? Of course. But Luongo also has the ultimate home-ice advantage.
As the resident wall at GM Place/Canada Hockey Place/Jacques Rogge Happy Town/whatever they’re calling it, Luongo knows every nook and cranny of the Vancouver rink. There will be no puckhandling misadventures for Bobby Lou; all the stanchions are close, personal friends.
Not to mention the fact he’s playing in front of literal home-team fans. Sure, Canadians will cheer for anyone donning the red and white, but Luongo’s appearance is just a little more special for the Vancouver faithful.
It’s unfair to second-guess Babcock’s decision-making in hindsight, but maybe the numbers were always there to support Luongo over Brodeur. After all, Brodeur’s workload has been questioned for years and his 58 NHL appearances this season are six more than Luongo’s – a noteworthy amount given the compressed schedule.
Brodeur still hasn’t won more than a single playoff round in any season since the 2002-03 Stanley Cup and though the same can be said for Luongo – who has never gone past the second round – Bobby Lou is also seven years younger and played for lesser teams than Marty’s Devils.
Now the road to gold gets infinitely harder thanks to the drop against the U.S.
Instead of coasting into the quarterfinal, Canada will have to go through Germany to earn a date with the Russians in the quarters, then face either Sweden or Slovakia in the semis, then the Finns, Czechs or a rematch with the U.S., in the gold medal game.
The Americans, thanks to their speed, effort and goaltending, will avoid playing at least two of the three pre-tournament gold medal favorites from here on out. Assuming the Yanks get to the final, their only favored opponent will be one of Canada, Sweden or Russia – and if Slovakia pulls off some upsets, it will be none of those nations.
A fresh, comfortable goaltender is what Canada needs and Luongo is the answer.
THN.com PUCK PANEL - Who starts in goal for Canada?
Host Ryan Dixon sits down with writers John Grigg and Ryan Kennedy to discuss... Alex Ovechkin’s bone-crushing hit on Jaromir Jagr… The Swedes' easy road thus far… Martin Brodeur’s troubles… Who will start in goal for Canada the rest of the tournament… The strong play of Canada’s young defenders… And the struggles of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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