Although his critics like to call him one of the most overrated goalies in the NHL, Roberto Luongo has gradually become one of the most underrated. Yes, it’s true: underrated.
Luongo is currently on his way back from an injury he suffered on December 22, and the song remains the same: no respect. Here in Vancouver, where there are more Luongo skeptics per capita than anywhere else, the love for promising backup Eddie Lack has reached the ring-and-proposal stage.
This is a repeat of the Cory Schneider fest last season, when that younger goalie’s own gaffes were politely ignored and his every half-decent save was hailed as a sign that Terry Sawchuk had returned from the dead. In the meantime, Luongo got treated like compost, not least by Canuck management, who made a big public deal out of their plans to ship him out of town and then, a while later, changed their mind.
Where does the scorn come from? Is it anything to do with a career pattern of late-period meltdowns? Luongo has indeed shown a knack for letting in the occasional heartbreaker in the last minute-and-a-half of a big game. An office colleague here likes to point out the tying goal that Team USA’s Zach Parise scored on him with 25 seconds left in regulation in the 2010 Olympic gold-medal match.
But Luongo eventually won that contest—maybe the most pressurized game ever played in Canada. No small thing. And his counterpart, the USA’s Ryan Miller, lost on a shot he probably should have stopped. Yet Miller has never drawn the slicing criticism Luongo has.
Then there were Lu’s collapses in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final against Boston. Oh, those were bad, no question. But he also racked up two shutouts in the series, and hardly deserved the goat horns that some fans and media members wanted to place on him as they giddily explained what an all-round awesome and fun-loving dude the Bruins’ Tim Thomas appeared to be. That particular line went quiet the following January, when Thomas outed himself as a crank and his own team dumped him.
The thing is, it’s always some other goalie. “Yeah, Luongo’s good but he’s not [pick a name]”: Pekka Rinne, Jonas Hiller, Antti Niemi, Jaroslav Halak… whoever, on and on, back in time. Some have done what Luongo has so far failed to do—win a Cup—but most have barely made it to the second round of the playoffs. They’ve had up years and down years. That goes even for the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, regularly assumed by eastern media to be the best goalie “on the planet” and who has looked pretty average, pretty creakily human, in 2013-14.
It's what happens to most goalies—a fact that makes Luongo’s year-in-year-out consistency admirable. We spent last summer, for example, hearing all about the goaltending juggernaut that would be Team USA at the upcoming Sochi Olympics, and about Canada’s astounding failure to keep up in net (a not-so-indirect shot at Luongo himself, the incumbent gold-medallist at the position). And then, with an injury here and a drifting-back-to-Earth there, Americans like Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, and Jonathan Quick haven't looked quite so scary.
Does that mean Luongo will get the respect he’s earned? Good lord, no, don’t be foolish. Now much of the punditry has Carey Price starting in net for Team Canada. It’s a spot Price won for himself with his fine playoff run back in…uh… or rather his record of big-game success, like when he…uh… Hm. Nevermind.
We just know it can’t be Luongo. Right? Anyone but Luongo.