VANCOUVER – Roberto Luongo has shown patience in the past by outwaiting shooters to make brilliant saves.
Now the veteran’s patience is being tested in a different way—the wait for another chance to play goal for the Vancouver Canucks.
And it won’t come Thursday night against the Nashville Predators for the former NHL all-star, two-time Vezina nominee and Olympic champion.
He’ll don a ball cap instead of a goalie mask and sit at the end of the bench because sophomore Cory Schneider’s hot hand has earned the backup a seventh straight start.
“It’s different but at the same time I’m not going to put my head down, I’m not going to get down on myself,”Luongo said of his unaccustomed role after Wednesday’s practice.
He said coach Alain Vigneault has given him no firm indication when his next start will come.
“It’s a game-by-game basis so I’m just going to work hard in practice and when I’m called upon I’ll be ready,”said Luongo, whose stall is next to Schneider’s in the locker-room.
“I know this is a big story and I don’t want to keep addressing it every day. I appreciate the appetite for it but I’m a team guy and when (we’re) winning games, all is good.
“It’s all about the team. It’s not about me, it’s not about Cory.”
But the focus has been on Schneider since taking over after Luongo suffered a since-healed but undisclosed upper body injury in a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Nov. 13.
After a 5-1 loss to Chicago, the backup from Marblehead, Mass. posted two consecutive shutouts en route to five straight wins.
One of those was a 43-save effort in a 3-2 victory in San Jose, the Canucks’West Division final opponent in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In addition to stealing that game, Schneider started his run by stoning Ottawa with 28 saves in a 2-1 overtime victory.
Over the five wins, he’s stopped 164 of 168 shots and climbed into second place in save percentage at .937 behind the Bruins’Tim Thomas going into play Wednesday. Schneider is fifth in goals-against average at 1.93.
Luongo’s numbers are a tepid 2.97 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage. He’s heard the boo-o-o-os a home as well as the Lou-u-u-us when handling the puck.
Sports talk radio callers are mindful that Luongo’s in the second of a 12-year US$64-million contract.
Schneider, a restricted free agent at the end of the season, has a $900,000 salary cap hit.
But when facing the microphones and the cameras are rolling both netminders are reading from the same script.
“Right now it’s less about individuals and more about the team’s success,”said Schneider who stopped 47 shots in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over Columbus, a one-goal game in the third period.
“It should be the focus that we’re winning as a team and that we’re two points out of first place (in the Western Conference). I’m just happy to be contributing right now and helping the team out but I think with either one of us we’re in good hands and have a good chance to win.”
Echoed Luongo, who combined with Schneider last season for fewest goals against:“We’ve got two great goalies here. We both can play.
“We’re both No. 1s. Cory’s playing unreal right now and we’re winning games so what else could you ask for.”
Schneider’s play has led the 14-9-1 Canucks out of an early season funk.
“It’s helped us get back in the groove,”said defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
“We’re playing good hockey now and the goalie can make that big save when there’s a breakdown. It helps you huge and he’s been doing that a lot lately.”
Vigneault noted his club is at the same point in the schedule as last season when it went on a 17-1-2 roll and Luongo played 14 of those games, Schneider six.
“So it’s probably safe to assume that Louie’s going to play but the focus has to be on (Nashville on Thursday) and Cory’s playing. Pretty simple.”
As for Luongo?
“He wants to play, he’s a competitive player but knowing him and knowing the team guy that he is he’s happy that the team is winning,”Vigneault told reporters.
“He’s waiting for his opportunity to come back and step in. Probably the toughest thing for him right now … is dealing with you people.”
NOTES—Luongo has a 7-5-1 record while Schneider is 7-4 … Canuck defenceman Sami Salo did not practise Wednesday after re-injuring his groin in Tuesday’s win over Columbus … Vigneault said he’d be evaluated again Thursday.