Don't look now, but there is a goaltending controversy. No, not in Vancouver... in Boston! The mighty Tim Thomas is facing a challenge to his number one position, again, from Tukka Rask.
Rask, who two years ago bumped Thomas into the back-up role, is at it again. At the halfway point in the season Rask has a lower GAA (1.59 to 1.99), a better save percentage (.945 to .938) a better winning percentage (.667 to .630) and is shutting out the opposition in 20% of his decisions versus only 17% for Thomas.
With Thomas having been ventilated for four goals by the Canucks, backstopping an embarrassing 63.6% PK in the only regular season match-up against the Bruins' number one Cup challenger, doubts are starting to percolate up.
How long before Rask is once again ensconced as the number one guy, the top banana, the Starter in the Boston goalmouth? And given their respective ages (24 to 37), who can doubt that the next time Rask takes over it will be for good?
Ridiculous, you say? Yes, it is. Totally ridiculous. Thomas is the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winner who is on target to equal or possibly even better his numbers from a year ago. He is in no danger of losing his job to his talented back up, despite the obvious talent Rask displays. It is foolish to think otherwise. Thomas's only threat is father time, who always wins in the end.
But it is no more ridiculous than to suggest that Vancouver has a goaltending controversy, as many broadcasters and bandwagon fans do whenever there is a slow sports day or no update on Crosby's concussion to pore over.
Yes, Schneider's GAA is better than Luo's (2.30 to 2.37), his save percentage is better (.927 to .917) and his win percentage (.667 to .607) and both have two shutouts despite Luongo having played in more games. But those numbers are mostly much closer than Rask and Thomas's. Schneider has all of 54 NHL games under his belt, compared to Luongo's 701. While Cory seems to be the real deal, the sport is littered with goalies who shone at first only to fade once the league picked out their weaknesses (Jim Carrey, Andrew Raycroft, Jose Theodore, Rick Dipietro... the list goes on and on). There is something to be said for a player who can do it year in and year out.
The big knock against Luongo is his playoff record, which is not bad but has several big blowouts staining his performance. It tends to shake confidence in him.
But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Luongo had four shutouts in the playoffs last year (just like Thomas), including two in the finals. He won three games in the finals for a team that scored eight goals in seven games. That is a lot to ask of any goalie and a lot of pressure to put on one man.
The questions that the uninformed pundits and fairweather fans ask about last year's playoff loss (Luongo's ability to win big games, the Sedins ability to score under physical challenges and the overall team toughness) are not the right questions to ask about the Canucks and their ability to climb that mountain this year.
The real reason we lost is that Vancouver had too many injuries to compete at that level, though just barely since they still pushed the B's to game 7. With Henrik, Kesler, Edler and Erhoff all playing hurt their first power play unit was a shadow of itself. With Higgins also skating on a broken bone and Raymond gone for the last two games, the second PP unit was also misfiring. The loss of Samuelsson and Hamhuis for basically the entire series also left them challenged both offensively and defensively.
The Bruins won the Cup fair and square and kudos to them for doing it. It's always a monumental achievement. But the team they beat in the finals was not the Canucks we know and love, it was a pale reflection of them.