The Achilles heel as far back as the summer orientation camp was goaltending. That’s why it’s the most interesting position to discuss.
Finally, Team Canada has been
slowly unveiled via thousands of speeches announced and everyone, from media to players to armchair GMs, has an opinion about every position. Let’s remember, however, that Canada has been stacked for 2014 at forward and on defense all along. The Achilles heel as far back as the summer orientation camp was goaltending. That’s why it’s the most interesting position to discuss. Let’s explore the trio Steve Yzerman selected and who deserves the starting not.
This role was always destined to be Price’s someday. He was a star junior stopper and the only goalie drafted in the top five of the first round (2005) since Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003. He is an immense talent, cool under pressure, the superstar netminder Montreal has lacked since Patrick Roy.
…or is he? That’s what Price was supposed to be, but his route to stardom has been circuitous. His numbers and effectiveness have fluctuated wildly year to year. After playing in the All-Star Game in 2011-12, he tanked in 2012-13 and posted the NHL’s 35th-best save percentage.
Then, in the off-season, Montreal hired Stephane Waite, the goaltending coach who molded Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford in Chicago. The results have been excellent: 20-11-4, 2.22 goals-against average, .928 save percentage. That said, Price's SP has declined each month since October, so it’s possible he’s tiring.
Say what you want about the NHL’s best tweeter, but no one can take Luongo’s Olympic resume away from him. He lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2011, but is there any greater pressure than overtime of the 2010 gold medal game in your home nation when you’re expected to win? Luongo delivered, which is more than Price or Smith has accomplished yet. The debate over whether to start Luongo will be moot if he doesn’t bounce back from an ankle injury in time for the Games, however.
He’s a giant in the net and he’s dynamic enough to steal games. Ever since Smith arrived in Phoenix from Tampa Bay, he’s been lightning in a bottle. He has more wins, more shutouts and a better SP than Price over the past three seasons.
The big red flag for Smith? The Dave Tippett factor. Smith's numbers before Phoenix were backup-caliber. And look at what happened to Ilya Bryzgalov after he left the desert? Playing in a new system with Canada, will Smith regress to his old ways?
There’s a case to be made for starting Luongo, the proven winner. But let’s remember he’s 34 now, exiting his prime, and has battled a litany of health woes.
At the 2010 Games, Luongo was the most talented goalie on Canada’s roster, yet the team went with older, more experienced stopper in Martin Brodeur to start the Games. Brodeur struggled and gave way to Luongo. Why make the same mistake this time? Give Price, the best goalie on the team, the chance he deserves. If he falters in the round-robin, Luongo is a great safety valve and Smith is a viable desperation option who can be as good as anyone when on.
Verdict: start Carey Price.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin