VANCOUVER – Sometimes a little tinkering is better than a major overhaul.
When the Vancouver Canucks hired Roland Melanson as their goaltending coach they didn’t expect him to conduct major work on Roberto Luongo. Instead, there’s been some fine-tuning of his technique, subtle adjustments to his style.
“It’s no major things,” Luongo said Friday, prior to Vancouver playing the Edmonton Oilers. ”But little things that complete my game a little more.
“It’s positioning, depth in my crease, stuff like that. In the last month or so we have worked a lot on seeing the ice, making sure you are always in good low coverage.”
The Canucks went into Friday’s game leading the NHL with a 26-8-5 record for 57 points. Cory Schneider was given his 10th start of the season against Edmonton. Luongo will be in net when Vancouver faces the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.
Luongo traditionally starts the season slowly. It’s taken him a little longer to find his game, but recently he’s rounded into form.
Luongo has allowed two or less goals in six of his last seven games. Overall, he has a 19-8-3 record, a 2.38 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He has two shutouts this year but has lost two more by giving up a goal in the last minute of a game.
The biggest difference in Luongo’s game is he’s playing a little deeper in his crease when the puck is in the Canucks zone. This shortens the distance he has to move to block a shot, and reduces the movement he needs to control a rebound.
He’s also not as aggressive. Instead of challenging shooters, he stays closer to his crease. That again helps with rebounds.
Luongo has been an NHL goalie for over 10 years and helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics. That didn’t stop him from adopting Melanson’s ideas.
“I’m the type of person that is always open to new ideas, especially to improve your game,” Luongo said. “I think you can always get better at what you do.
“You want to believe in what someone is teaching you for it to work. I believe in what Rollie is trying to teach me. The good thing about it is I’m seeing the results. That’s what makes the whole thing really fun.”
The Canucks hired Melanson in June to become a full-time goalie coach. He replaced Ian Clark, who had spent the last eight years working as a part-time consultant.
Melanson, who won three Stanley Cups as a player with the New York Islanders, served as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens from 1997 to 2009. During that time he helped with the development of goaltenders like Jose Theodore, Jocelyn Thibault, Jaroslav Halak, Cristobal Huet and Carey Price.
Melanson declined an interview request.
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault believes Melanson has made a very good goalie even better.
“Roberto has been a great goaltender for a long time,” Vigneault said. “Sometimes when you make subtle improvements to certain areas you can become that much more effective, that much more better.
“That’s what Rollie and him are trying to do. So far, he has been playing really well for us.”
If Luongo is a portrait that needed some final touches, Schneider has been like a blank canvas for Melanson.
Schneider, who is playing in his first full NHL season, said having a full-time goalie coach has been a huge learning tool.
“He’s brought some consistency,” said Schneider, who had a 7-0-2 record in his first nine starts. “He’s pretty consistent on what he wants you to do and his philosophy. He drills it into your head and makes sure you execute it over and over again.
“Just having that consistency and that base to work from has been really important for me.”
Vigneault said Melanson has helped shape Schneider’s raw ability.
“It’s been great to watch those guys work from day one,” said Vigneault. “Cory is like a sponge. The sponge now has given us a lot of wins.”
Both goaltenders said the benefit of having a full-time coach extends beyond the ice.
“Sometimes you need somebody to talk to, ask questions, bounce ideas off of,” said Luongo. “When somebody is here on a daily basis, it’s much easier to do that.”
The Canucks have been knocked out of the second round of the playoffs the last two years.
One of Vancouver’s objectives this year was to play Schneider more during the season. That will reduce Luongo’s work load and have him rested and ready for the playoffs.
With the Canucks riding a torrid winning streak, Luongo is on board with the plan.
“We will see when the playoffs roll around,” said Luongo. “I can’t honestly say I felt tired in the playoffs the previous years. That’s not an excuse I’m going to make.
“At the end of the day whatever helps this team is what I’m all about. Cory is playing well, winning some games. That makes it much easier for the coaching staff to give him starts. The team is doing well, so it’s all good.”