I've come to talk with you again. Because, a vision planted in my brain, still remains. The Hawks of Chicago, Illinois.
Yeah, its those guys again. Once again, a bunch of us, both Hawk and Canuck fans, will spend a great deal of spare time debating various talking points, with great humour and passion. Pendantic discussions of arcane aspects of the game to come Wednesday. Illuminating references and debatable value judgements. Facts disguised as slyly convincing rationalizations.
As Paul and Art would say ; "talking without speaking, people hearing without listening, people writing songs, that voices never share, and no one dare..." Its what we do!
So, well, yeah, we do dare, in this 40th anniversary littered with big moments and accomplishments. We damn well do dare. The vision that was planted in our brains definitely "still remains", and its too late to change the arrangements now anyhow.
Let's start with Roberto Luongo. That should get us going nicely!
Perhaps more than every other "best goaltender in the game", Roberto Luongo has his share of detractors. A fair share of that has to do with having playoff success as opposed to regular season dominance. We as fans know that, and Roberto has been asked often enough about it to be well aware of the perception.
So, what is different this year? Well, the statistics of this year have him with his best season as a Canuck, with only sixty games played. Here they are, the whole career from NHL.com. I would assume they are accurate and up to date as for seasons end.
There is really no argument that he is one of the best goalies in the NHL since he came into the league. His career .919 sv % is less than Dominic Hask and his .922 ( Tim Thomas is also at .922, over 3 years less, and Rinne with 2 years less than that is a .920, and Hiller, with two years less in than Rinne, is a .921. )
Not bad company, but we really don't care. We knew that when we traded for him and Dave Nonis told us so. STFU with this stuff Dan. What can he do in the playoffs?!!!? We want a CUP!
Yeah, me too. Of course we do. But lets look inside the season a bit. When Luongo was playing more games in 06/07, being a Vezina nomination and etc. He had 47 wins. He had 38 this year, with 16 less games played ( 7 less losses this year, and the OT a wash at 6 then to 7 now ). He was a .921 in 06/07, and is a .928 this year. That might have changed slightly with more games played that first year, and you can say the same of the 2.29 GAA in 06/07 compared to the 2.11 of 10/11. It does not hurt that the Canucks are the number one scoring team to go with all that. The 06/07 team was...not.
Do not forget, also, that this is under the tutelage of one of the best goaltender coaches in the league. One that made Price a star, got Halak big bucks, and made Huet the object of the Hawks' love. His system and style works. You can see it in the economy of movement and control of both Luongo and Schneider this year.
The added benefit of his system is that you play a little farther back. Away from contact of the Bufygliens and Scott's of the world. Size does not really matter even. Even in the playoffs, no ref is going to let a player be standing with both feet fully in the blue ice, where they will have to be to trouble the Vancouver netminder (s). Its an obvious improvement that any of us that like watching the goalies has seen have positive results all season. Just because its the playoffs, does not mean the rules just change, even if they are relaxed a scootch.
Simply put, Roberto Luongo has had another season that is worthy of a Vezina nomination, and he has done it while remaining fresher and , together with Cory Schneider, goalie coach Rollie Melanson, and the team collectively won the Canucks first Jennings Trophy. That means something. It means the Canucks have solid goaltending, and a team that trusts that to devastating effect. It means they were the one of the very best defensive teams in the NHL( with 13 different defensemen serving time on the blue line, and 39 players overall seeing time on the roster, the most of any team in the league ) 54 wins, and President's Trophy, as well as fantastic special teams don't just fall out of the sky. They certainly should not be just written off because we start the playoffs.
Teams draw confidence from past performance, that's why it matters for a tourney like the Stanley Cup. It is not the only thing that matters, however.
That is why the NHL is littered with names of guys that came alive in the playoffs and never again, like John Druce,( check 1990. 15 playoff games, 14G,3A ) or scored huge goals like Mike Rupp for the Devils in 2003 that enable them to STILL be employed even with awe inspiring stats like these. There is always unsung heros and unforeseen events and injuries. Anything can happen. Its just as likely that someone like Jannik Hansen or Tanner Glass, Victor Oreskovich, or rookie Cody Hodgson light it up as say, Fernando Pisani or Ryan Johnson.
Thats what makes it so compelling to watch. The most difficult of any professional trophy to win.
But there are just as many historical reasons to discount things like "President's Trophy curses" and their ilk as there is to invest in them. We are hockey fans. We have seen 8 beat 1 before. We have often seen the opposite too. So what?
There will be some that will, perhaps rightly, perhaps with too much venom, get upset at, or denigrate the best goaltender we have had on this team. By the regular season numbers, anyhow. The first time they think a goal was what they judge as "weak".
Some will argue to the death that the best is Richard Brodeur ( and listening to TEAM this week, there was a lineup out the door and down the block when he was doing an appearance with Jeff Patterson at some BC Liquor store. Still well loved ) or Kirk MacLean. They did get the team to the Finals before losing.
I might even agree with them, to a point. Certainly, that success over Roberto's current lack is to be noted. But it should not be used to denigrate him. He has not got there. True. Yet.
It can also easily be argued that the 82 and 94 teams were no where near as deep or as talented as this one. That they should not have been there. Not this team. This has to be the most complete team Roberto Luongo has played behind since he has been in the NHL. This is his best chance.
The Hawks are who we thought they were. A top heavy team with talent that should scare any team. But this is certainly not the same team that won the Cup, and the fact that they finished 8th is no joke. The Hawks finished games 2-15-2 when trailing after two periods. That is .100 win %.
Of the playoff teams , that is 4th worst, behind the Penguins .000%, the Hab's .033%, and the Flyers .045%, with 1 win more than the Habs and Flyers, and 2 ahead of the blanked Pens. ( Last year the Hawks were 7-18-1 in that situation. ) For comparison, the leaders of the current playoff teams in the stat are the Preds at .273%, the Caps at .267%, and your Vancouver Canucks at .238%. The Wings are at .229%. Some Have more wins after two periods ( Rangers, Wash. and Detroit all came back 8 times compared to the Canucks 5, for instance ), but that is telling for the Hawks.
I can't remember how many times watching them play this year, at home or on the road, that the "big goal" that always seemed to come like it was "ordained" last year for the Hawks was definitely harder to attain.
The numbers speak to a different team. That team is facing a goalie that is in a different place professionally, with no distractions of the captaincy, for instance. With the deepest team he has ever had.
That cannot just be discounted like "words of the prophets that are written on the subway walls".
So, yes, I do think Roberto Luongo can take this team, this year, as far and farther than Richard Brodeur and Kirk MacLean did. That it starts with the Hawks is a blessing, you could say. The slaying of that playoff dragon would go a long way to shutting up those detractors. Or at least muting them before the next round.
Besides, even if the absolute worst were to happen, and the Hawks were to get through to Luongo playing the best hockey of his life, and a foot deeper in the crease anyhow, where he should get some protection from the refs , even with all that...
there is still Cory Schneider. ;-)