When Vancouver takes the ice tonight, goaltender Eddie Lack will lead them onto the ice while fellow netminder Ryan Miller, the Canucks big off-season acquisition, will watch from the bench. And, really, that’s the right call by coach Willie Desjardins.
It adds to the ever-growing list of goaltending controversies for the Canucks – a team that saw battles between Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo lead to Schneider being dealt to New Jersey, and then saw Luongo leave once Lack usurped the starting job – but this one was unavoidable. Unlike Schneider and Luongo or Luongo and Lack, there’s some definite clarity on which goaltender has been playing better, and that goaltender isn’t Miller.
Miller, who is returning from an injury suffered Feb. 22, hasn’t been abysmal and he’s certainly not the worst goaltender the Canucks could roll with for their first-round series against the Flames. However, in his one start after missing almost two months due to a lower body injury, Miller was shelled for five goals on 28 shots in an April 11 overtime victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
Meanwhile, during Miller’s absence, Lack not only helped the Canucks clinch a playoff berth, he helped them lock up the second seed in the Pacific Division and fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the very same Flames they’ll meet in round one.
According to War-On-Ice, of the 16 goaltenders who played at least 750 minutes since Feb. 22, Lack’s stats won’t blow anyone away. In 22 outings, Lack posted a .922 save percentage at 5-on-5 and allowed 41 goals. While his SP does rank 14th of the 16 netminders, it does put him ahead of Nashville Predators star goaltender Pekka Rinne and Colorado Avalanche puck-stopper Semyon Varlamov.
Even still, if those numbers aren’t enough to warrant the starting job for game one, Miller’s performance against the Oilers was. And Desjardins isn’t taking any chances.
It’s not only Lack’s recent performance and play to get Vancouver into the post-season that landed him the starting nod, though. Over the course of the year, a season in which Miller played a mere 217 more minutes than his younger counterpart, Lack was better than Miller.
At all strengths and all situations, Lack boated a .921 SP, while Miller stumbled to a .911 mark. Lack faced an even 1,200 shots and allowed 95 goals (2.45 goals-against average), while Miller saw 1,199 pucks and allowed 107 by him (2.53 GAA). While at 5-on-5 the two goaltenders were a bit closer – Lack with a .921 SP and Miller sitting at .914 – the edge still goes to Lack.
If that’s not enough, though, Lack was a big part of a Canucks penalty kill that finished second in the league and will be key against a Flames offense that has stayed alive thanks to their capability with the man advantage and timely scoring. Of all starting netminders in the league, Lack finished fourth in penalty kill SP (.904) behind only Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov.
In a Pacific Division that is up for grabs, the Canucks stand as good a chance as any Western team at making it through to the Conference final. Desjardins going with Lack as the man to lead him there makes perfect sense.