ST. PAUL, Minn. – It's not another shutout Cory Schneider needs. It's a treasure hunt.
Schneider, the guy who was supposed to be the Vancouver Canucks' No. 1 goalie but isn't, has done everything within his power since a jittery opening night three weeks ago to convince coach Alain Vigneault to play him more often. But until Schneider locates and confiscates Vigneault's trick coin – the two-headed disc the Canuck boss admitted last week was turning up in Roberto Luongo's favour either way – Schneider doesn't stand a chance.
“I would like to see it, though,” he said of the mystery coin. “I'll call heads.”
If Schneider doesn't get his share of the net now, he probably won't until general manager Mike Gillis finally gets around to trading Luongo. Which could be today. Or never.
Playing for the first time in 11 days, Schneider stopped 22 of 23 shots in the Canucks' 4-1 win here Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.
The performance lowered Schneider's goals-against average to 1.71 since the first 27 minutes of the National Hockey League season, while nudging his save percentage to .936. In six appearances that included four straight starts until Thursday, Luongo is third in the NHL with a 1.53 GAA and .940 save rate.
It's a dead heat.
No wonder Vigneault said after the game he'll flip his imaginary coin again today to see which goalie starts for the Canucks Saturday against the Calgary Flames.
But here's a better idea: how about we end the raging daily debate and controversy and simply declare that Schneider and Luongo will rotate as starters – A, B, A, B – until someone definitively wins or loses the job?
“I am not going to share that with you,” Vigneault said when asked post-game about the potential goaltending solution. “I'm just going to trust the coin and keep it simple.”
Yes, but like Schneider, no body else has seen it.
The main reason the Canucks' unconventional goaltending situation hasn't turned into a full-fledged freak show is that both Schneider and Luongo are so professional and dedicated to their team and each other that they've been willing to tolerate a situation many “No. 1 goalies” would find intolerable.
Both accept the idea of merit-based play, even if that wasn't Schneider's understanding when he was anointed the new starter last spring and re-signed to a three-year, $12-million contract.
Both goalies are playing brilliantly. If you go by merit, how can Schneider possibly not be rewarded with another start on Saturday?
But, Schneider said Thursday, “Did Lou really deserve to not get this start?”
Good point. Luongo was unenthusiastic about being bounced from the net during a three-game winning streak, although he feels genuine sympathy and support for Schneider.
The coin isn't going to work.
Maybe a rotation wouldn't either, but Schneider sounded keen to try it.
“We both like being in the net and don't like sitting out,” he said. “We're both guys that when we play a lot and get into a rhythm, you get even better. (But) the condensed schedule, playing every other game, it could come pretty quickly. There might not be a lot of days in between. There's a million possibilities out there and we're just going to go with whatever the coach and management thinks is best.”
Luongo didn't offer an opinion on the potential to job share evenly.
“That's not my call,” he said. “Whatever is fine with me. All I can do is be ready. That's more the coach's decision. Whoever's in net is going to give his team a chance to win, that's for sure. And that's all that matters.”
Vancouver's 6-2-2 record represents its best start since the team went 8-1-1 in 2005, although perhaps that's not such a good omen since those Canucks eventually faltered and missed the playoffs the season after a lockout, and coach Marc Crawford was fired.
There's still plenty for the Canucks to do better.
Daniel Sedin scored Thursday, but he and his brother Henrik, recent NHL scoring champions, have combined for just three goals and 14 points in the first 10 games. The Canucks are only 21st in the league on the power play and 20th in penalty killing. Key two-way centre Ryan Kesler still hasn't played after off-season shoulder and wrist surgeries and, although practising, still doesn't sound like he is about to.
Thursday's win was one of Vancouver's most impressive so far.
Against a Wild team that doesn't score much but is difficult to beat in Minnesota, the Canucks stifled their opponents in the first period, yielding just three shots and building a 2-0 lead on goals by Daniel Sedin and Chris Higgins.
Schneider was exceptionally good in the middle 10 minutes of the second period, when the Wild mustered its only surge. Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen scored for the Canucks 1:35 apart late in the period and that was the game.
Schneider lost his shutout, which would have been his second in three starts, on Tom Gilbert's power-play goal at 7:25 of the third period.
“It's tough to evaluate,” Vigneault said of the first 10 games, which represents more than one-fifth of the regular season. “I think the hole league right now is tough to evaluate. Everybody's grinding it out. That's what games are about right now. They're not going to all be pretty but you've got to grind it out and find a way to get wins, and that's what we're doing right now.”
It helps to have two No. 1 goalies. Most of the time.
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