InGoal Update: Luongo ensures Schneider on Jennings Trophy
Plus Sergei Bobrovsky gets a needed boost from Boucher; Ray Emery beats the odds but may have lost his job in Anaheim; and more in the April 11 update.
The Canucks head into the playoffs as the oddsmaker’s early favourites to lift the Stanley Cup, but not before adding a trio of trophies in the regular season: the Presidents’ Trophy as top team, the Art Ross Trophy to Daniel Sedin as the leading scorer, and the William Jennings Trophy to Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider for fewest goals allowed.
That last trophy would have only had one name on it if Luongo and first-year goaltending coach Roland Melanson hadn’t gone to head coach Alain Vigneault with a late season request to get Schneider the two appearances needed to reach 25 and be eligible to have his name etched on the trophy. So the rookie backup played the final 29 seconds of a game in Edmonton on Tuesday, and started the season finale, a 3-2 overtime win in Calgary on Saturday.
“I told Cory, ‘Don’t screw it up, you’ve got seven goals to work with,'” Luongo joked. “He told me he handle it.”
Schneider did just that, finishing the season 16-4-2 with a .929 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average. as the Canucks finished with 180 goals against, nine fewer than Boston and 10 less than Nashville.
“It means a lot that (Luongo) and the coaching staff think I deserve it and they want me on there,” Schneider said before making the final start. “It’s a nice feather in your cap and it means you’ve played great team defence and had good goaltending all season. It’s a nice accomplishment.”
Luongo, meanwhile, not only reached a nice personal milestone with his first Jennings, but also a significant team mark since it is the first time in Canucks history they allowed the fewest goals. While Luongo’s numbers speak for themselves as the best of his 11 years in the NHL: 38-15-7 in 60 games, tied for first in victories, second in goals against average at 2.11, fourth in save percentage at .928, it is worth noting that his “career” season, in one way, is not so different from what he has done since breaking into the league.
If we look at save percentage as an indicator of true performance rather than wins or goals against average, we can see that Luongo has been remarkably steady. Consider:
~ through five seasons in Vancouver he has a save percentage of 0.920
~ through five seasons in Florida he had a save percentage of … 0.920
The difference? In Florida he posted a win-lost record of 96-130-34. In Vancouver that number was 193-101-33.
There is little surprise that Luongo was named a top ten goalie 8 years running by, ranking (from this year backwards) 7th-10th-10th-3rd-2nd-2nd-1st-5th. In 2003-04, the year the magazine rated him tops in the league, his save percentage was even higher than this year’s, at 0.931 vs. 0.928. Yet he had a losing record, as was the case for all but his last year in Florida.
Call it vindication for a goalie whose excellence was often overlooked (just like Tomas Vokoun, who posted a shutout Saturday in what may be his final game with the Panthers), both because of the hockey market he was in and the tendency to count wins as a measure of a netminder’s performance. The obvious test that remains to be passed is whether Luongo can answer the bell in the post-season, where his save percentage has dropped from 0.941 (2007) to 0.914 (2009) to 0.895 (2010).
Boucher backs up Bob off ice, but will he be on it?
It’s safe to say that there is not one backup goalie in the NHL who wouldn’t prefer to be the starter, but the reality is most teams go with one guy for most of the games, a practice that becomes more pronounced in the playoffs.
InGoal has discussed a couple of notable exceptions to this unwritten rule, one of them being in Philly, where Michael Leighton has just returned from waivers to join veteran Brian Boucher and playoff neophyte rookie Sergei Bobrovsky as the Flyers head into a dangerous first round matchup against seventh-seed Buffalo.
Even though Bobrovsky speaks little English, he most likely would have been pleased to hear the vote of confidence from Boucher in the media scrum after the Flyers’ last game. They defeated the Islanders by a score of 7-4, but not before Bobrovsky had been pulled for allowing three goals on 10 shots. Boucher was impeccable in relief, making 25 of 26 stops in the comeback, but Philly brass has already announced Bobrovsky will start the playoffs despite being winless in his last 5 games.
Asked if he was going to talk to Bobrovsky before the first playof game “so he doesn’t lose his confidence,” Boucher replied:
“I talk to him every day; I try to talk to him. He’s a resilient kid. The last two months have been tough at times; we haven’t played as well as we did at the start of the season and that can be tough. He has bounced back, he’s had a great season; I think he has 28 wins as a rookie. I wish I had that when I was a rookie.”
Hopefully Bobrovsky’s personal interpreter will pass the supportive words on. The rookie will open the playoffs on Thursday against none other than the current Vezina trophy winner Ryan Miller of the Sabres.
A new (medical) miracle on ice
Almost any hockey fan could name the 1980 US Olympic gold medal that coined the “miracle on ice” name for how a gang of upstart college players beat the feared Red Army hockey machine. Perhaps the term will have taken on new meaning as the first anniversary of Ray Emery’s surgery for vascular necrosis passed last Friday. While this remarkable comeback story has been documented, by InGoal Magazine among many others, the brought things back into focus to underline just what odds Emery has beaten to get back into the game, let alone get the Anaheim Ducks into the playoffs (with his 7-2-0 record).
Emery is the first athlete in any sport to ever come back to professional play without having joint replacement after suffering from this disease. Emery spent a month bedridden and taking heavy medication, then five more months on crutches. His rehab on two legs is literally not even 6 months old. The last two months of that was spent facing NHL shooters and backstopping a frantic playoff qualifying race, all of which should earn him the Masterton Trophy, an award dedicated to the player who displays “qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”
Even if his teammates never truly appreciated the grasp of how far he came:
“I know he was out a year, had surgery and came back. But I can’t elaborate,” Bobby Ryan told The Register. “Sorry about that. I’m guessing nobody in this room really knows the details.”
In that case, it’s a hockey story of a positive nature that deserves to be repeated at least one more time. The question now is whether it will be re-told again in the playoffs. Emery missed the last two regular season games with an undisclosed lower-body injury that was bad enough the Ducks didn’t even dress him as a backup with their season on the line, choosing instead to use Jonas Hiller despite the fact he is still suffering from Vertigo symptoms.
Instead they went with Dan Ellis, the fifth Ducks goalie this season, but a forgotten man after Emery’s late-season surge. And all Ellis did in his first game in three weeks – and with his fourth team in a whirlwind eight months – was backstop Anaheim into the playoffs with back to back wins over equally desperate Los Angeles, clinching home-ice advantage in the first round with a dominant 43-save effort in a 3-1 win in the season finale.
With that he may have earned a playoff start against the Nashville team that let him walk as a free agent, whether Emery is healthy or not. It would be a good story. But the NHL’s best tale still belongs to Emery.