Home > Uncategorized > Great Goalie Debate: Luongo or Price against Finland?

Great Goalie Debate: Luongo or Price against Finland?

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Team Canada goaltender Carey Price only allowed one goal in a 3-1 victory over Norway during Thursday's preliminary-round opener in Sochi, Russia. Price was also red-hot for the Montreal Canadiens heading into the NHL's Olympic break, but does that warrant starting ahead of incumbent Roberto Luongo, who helped Canada win gold in 2010? That answer should come sometime Saturday — courtesy head coach Mike Babcock — ahead of Sunday's showdown with Finland for first place in Group B.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Team Canada goaltender Carey Price only allowed one goal in a 3-1 victory over Norway during Thursday’s preliminary-round opener in Sochi, Russia. Price was also red-hot for the Montreal Canadiens heading into the NHL’s Olympic break, but does that warrant starting ahead of incumbent Roberto Luongo, who helped Canada win gold in 2010? That answer should come sometime Saturday — courtesy head coach Mike Babcock — ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Finland for first place in Group B.

Who should start — Price or Luongo? Luongo or Price? Or Mike Smith . . . just kidding.

Listen, we can argue ’til the cows come home, but I’m inclined to believe the speculation by the mainstream media to be right; this decision has already been made and neither the Norway nor Austria game affected head coach Mike Babcock’s decision-making.

Scott Lepp
Scott Lepp

Mostly because, well, did you watch the games? Sure, the Canadians may not have played like a gold medal was on the line, but scoring chances were scarce and the two ’tenders were rarely tested.

I’d say Babcock goes Roberto Luongo. That’s my hunch, and I think it’s the ol’ give the guy a chance to keep his throne kinda deal.

I don’t agree — the better goalie should go regardless, but hey, this seems to be Hockey Canada’s way of running things.

Here’s the basics, and I’m not going to go into too much statistical detail here because it’s very possible that in the grand scheme of things, NHL save percentages don’t necessarily translate to equal success in Sochi.

However, these sorts of tournament formats do mean that a hot goalie can steal a tournament — think Czech Republic and Dominik Hasek in 1998, of course. And with that in mind, I’d lean towards the goaltender who was “hottest” going into the tournament.

That’s Carey Price. The Canucks are struggling, while the Habs got things back on track.

In the two weeks prior to the Olympic break:

Carey Price: 6 GP. 4-1-1. .971 sv% 2 shutouts. Price never gave up more than 2 goals in this span and faced more than 30 shots in all but one game.

Roberto Luongo: 6 GP. 1-5-0. .880 sv%. Luongo never let in less than 3! And the 5 losses came in the last 5 appearances, including a 5-2 head-to-head defeat on Feb. 6 in their much-anticipated pre-Olympic showdown.

Price has been stronger than Luongo in all the major categories this year and comes into the tournament on an even better string of games. Despite the gaffe in Game 1 (and let’s get one thing straight, that’s on Alex Pietrangelo — when’s the last time you saw a defenceman just stop like that and not go get that puck?), Price is also a better puckhandler, which is just another added strength. Let’s ride Price and let him get hot.

Buck the trend, Babcock, go with the best you’ve got.

Scott Lepp is an Independent Film/TV Producer from Okotoks, Alta. Lifelong Calgary Flames fan turned critic and contributor to SBNation blog Matchsticks & Gasoline. Follow him on Twitter: @WestmountWailer.

PHIL NOBLE/Reuters Team Canada goaltender Roberto Luongo gloves down a shot in making one of his 23 saves against Austria during Friday's 6-0 shutout win in preliminary-round action at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Luongo's flawless showing might have been enough to cement him as Canada's starter against Finland on Sunday.

Phil Noble/Reuters
Team Canada goaltender Roberto Luongo gloves down a shot in making one of his 23 saves against Austria during Friday’s 6-0 shutout win in preliminary-round action at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Luongo’s flawless showing might have been enough to cement him as Canada’s starter against Finland on Sunday.

That’s a pretty compelling case for Price.

The numbers don’t lie — he is Canada’s best option based on recent NHL statistics.

Only one problem — this isn’t the NHL. And Luongo, not Price, is Canada’s best option based on recent (and not-so-recent) Olympic statistics.

I can agree with Scott on a couple fronts — that Babcock is likely leaning towards Luongo, and that his mind was made up well before those first two games.

Larry Fisher
Larry Fisher

This was — and still is — Luongo’s job to lose. If anything, he strengthened his hold on the starter status with Friday’s 23-save shutout of Austria.

Price, in my opinion, needed a superior performance and/or a mild Luongo meltdown to shake Babcock’s confidence in his gold-medal-winning goaltender. Short of that, Luongo was going to be back between the pipes on Sunday against Finland — and that’s what I fully expect to see.

Is it what I want to see? Is it what I would, personally, do in Babcock’s shoes?

That’s a tough one, but I think so.

Not an emphatic endorsement, by any means.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, I’ve never had enormous faith in Luongo. Living in B.C. and being subjected to constant Canucks content, I’m entirely aware that he’s has had his share of struggles since backstopping Canada to gold on his home ice in Vancouver four years ago.

That was 2010, and this is 2014 — there’s no guarantee Luongo can recapture that magic. And, looking back, he wasn’t exactly great in those Olympics, just good enough.

But I do believe Luongo deserves the opportunity to be “good enough” again, and I can certainly understand Babcock’s thinking to that end. There’s a trust factor in play, from being in the battle together and coming out on top. A familiarity — having been there, done that.

I see no reason why they can’t do it again and repeat as champions in Sochi — with Luongo playing a starring role.

Yet, another side of me, can just as easily see Luongo getting lit up by Finland — with Canada then left to ride Price the rest of the way, for better or worse.

Luongo took the torch from Martin Brodeur in Vancouver, and he could very well relinquish it to Price in Sochi.

I just don’t feel like that’s happened — yet.

Luongo has the edge in experience and career accomplishments. On top of his aforementioned 2010 highlight, the 34-year-old from Montreal has won two gold and a silver at the world championships. He also settled for silver at the 1999 world juniors, but was named the best goaltender in that tournament. He’s a three-time finalist for the Vezina trophy as the NHL’s top goalie — as recently as 2011 — and also a Hart trophy runner-up for league MVP. In 2011, Luongo led Vancouver all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final before falling to Boston.

Price has no such NHL playoff success to speak of. He’s imploded in the post-season a few times over the years and was supplanted by former backup turned trade bait Jaroslav Halak in 2010 when the Habs went all the way to the East final. Luongo can relate to that — he was unseated just last year by Cory Schneider, who was then surprisingly dealt to New Jersey in the off-season.

But Price has not led the Canadiens past the first round of playoffs since his rookie season in 2007-08. That was before the Vancouver Olympics. Over the last five seasons, Price has failed to perform up to expectations in pressure situations.

He really hasn’t accomplished much of anything since his one phenomenal year way back in 2007. That year saw Price put on a memorable performance at the world juniors, leading Canada to a third straight gold and winning tournament MVP and Top Goaltender honours. Later that spring, Price was summoned to make his pro debut with Montreal’s farm team and, after appearing in only two regular-season games, he carried the Hamilton Bulldogs to an improbable Calder Cup championship and was again named MVP.

Price was 19 years old at the time. He’s now 26 and still hasn’t been nominated for the Vezina, or won any more hardware internationally, either.

That’s not to say Price isn’t a good goaltender, with potential to eventually be great. He is, and I do think he will get to that level sooner or later.

As of today, though, Luongo is Canada’s man — and rightfully so.

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

Getty Images/CBCSports.ca Carey Price, left, and Roberto Luongo are competing to be Canada's No. 1 goaltender at the Sochi Olympics. Who should start against Finland Have your say in the poll below.

Getty Images/CBCSports.ca
Carey Price, left, and Roberto Luongo are competing to be Canada’s No. 1 goaltender at the Sochi Olympics. Have your say in the poll below.

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