Schneider's best game of season?
Canucks goalie blocks all 15 Blues shots in first 20 minutes, thwarts power play
Before his team temporarily put an end to the hysteria sweeping the land. Alain Vigneault stood in front of the media and identified the key to his team's chances against the St. Louis Blues.
"I've got to be able to come here after the game and say my goaltender was better than their goaltender," the Canucks head coach/lightning rod said.
Now, as far as revelations go, this one wasn't particularly blinding. It demonstrated, in fact, a sports writers' grasp of the obvious. The problem has been, during their recent descent to the seventh ring of hell, the Canucks have had the second-best goalie on too many nights which helps explain why they were enduring one of the worst stretches of the Vigneault era.
Until Tuesday night, at least.
We'll know soon enough if Cory Schneider just had one of those nights or this was the start of the long-awaited stretch when one of the Canucks' keepers takes control of the net. But, at the very least, Vigneault could stand in front of the media after the Canucks 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues and proclaim he had the best goalie on this night.
"Big science, eh? You need great goaltending to win in this league and tonight we got a real solid performance from Cory," Vigneault said. "We were looking for our legs and our hands in the first period and he permitted us to find them."
"Let's face it, that's where it all starts," said Blue vice-president of hockey ops Al MacInnis, whose own team has had an interesting time with their goaltending.
Schneider, whose game has been up and down like the Irish economy this season, responded to the Canucks' crisis with, maybe, his best game of the season and, certainly, his best period when his team needed it most. With his colleagues playing in a trance over the first 20 minutes, the kid from Marblehead, who turned 27 on Monday, stopped all 15 shots, including a couple of five-alarmers on the Blues' first power play. By all rights, the Blues should have been up two goals which likely would have precipitated another meltdown from a team that's looked as fragile as bone china.
Instead, the Canucks came out in the second, scored three times and dominated play before hanging on, barely, in the third period.
Now, Schneider's effort stood out because it was the first time a Canucks goalie had been a difference-maker in about a month and that's not the way this team is supposed to work. The organization has $9.3 million tied up in Schneider and Roberto Luongo, which isn't exactly the best use of resources to begin with. But it's also been magnified by a strange year for the game's strangest position where a series of virtual unknowns have out-performed some of the game's biggest stars.
The Blues' Jake Allen is one of those. Three weeks into the regular season, and with incumbents Brian Elliott and Jaro Halak struggling mightily, the Blues called up Allen from Peoria, threw him in the net and watched him eight of his next nine decisions before he took the loss on Tuesday night.
"Goaltending is a somewhat fickle position," said Schneider, the Canucks' starter on Tuesday night. "It's very seldom the same guys are in the top-five every single year. Year to year, you see variances in terms of who's on top, who's having an off year, who's going to bounce back."
This hardly comes as a news flash to the Canucks. At the very least, their goaltending was supposed to be the team's safeguard against a prolonged losing stretch. For a number of reasons, it hasn't worked out that way. It hasn't been bad. But it hasn't been great and given the way the team's currently constructed, they've need it to be great.
What this means going forward is the next question and that's where things get interesting. The Canucks are still trying to unload Luongo and his $5.3 million cap hit in a market that's loaded with younger and cheaper alternatives. Maybe a team like Washington or Toronto still looks at Luongo has the man who can get them into the playoffs this season. Or maybe they look at the other options and conclude he's not worth the price.
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