Thursday, September 28, 2006
We all know that Roberto Luongo can steal hockey games. And if the preseason is any indication (Tony Gallagher, Vancouver Province) - God, I hope it's not, but anyway - then he's going to have to steal A LOT OF hockey games.
But while most point to Luongo's size and athleticism, his win totals and save percentages, how he's come up big in Team Canada colors, and how he almost backstopped awful Florida Panthers teams to the playoffs, Jeff Patterson, in a nice piece in this week's Georgia Straight, talks about something else Luongo brings to the Vancouver Canucks:
Dave Nonis probably didn’t realize it at the time, but when the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks acquired Roberto Luongo in June, he didn’t just get a good goalie. He also gained a huge advantage on every opponent the Canucks will face this season and for years to come. That’s because Luongo, although just 27 years old and only six years into his NHL career, is already messing with the heads of other teams and other players.That's huge considering he has to face the likes of Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla and Marian Gaborik a few times during the season.
“He’s very good,” says Rory Fitzpatrick, who signed with the Canucks as a free agent this summer after spending the past four years in Buffalo and getting to know Luongo well as an Eastern Conference foe. “Every time we’d go into Florida, that was the main topic: you know you’ve got to beat Roberto and you’re not going to beat him on your first shot. You have to get people in front, and it’s going to be a second or third shot that you’re going to score on. He’s a big guy and covers a lot of space, and he’s one of the top goalies in the league, and I think the people of Vancouver are really going to like watching him play. And I know as a defenceman, I’m loving that he’s here.”
Fitzpatrick—talking, along with other players and Canuck management, to the Georgia Straight recently at training camp in Vernon—surely won’t be alone, playing with added confidence knowing that one of the world’s best netminders is there to bail him out. And it’s not just the blueliners who will benefit from Luongo’s presence. With the departures of Todd Bertuzzi and Anson Carter, there are questions about the Vancouver hockey club’s ability to score goals this season. But simple math tells you that if your team isn’t getting scored on as often as it has in the past, you won’t need as many goals to win.
“I think it changes your mindset a little bit,” veteran centre Brendan Morrison says. “Clouts [Dan Cloutier] was an extremely competitive guy, and when he was on his game and playing his best, he gave us a chance to win every night. I think with Roberto that’s magnified just because he has the ability to steal a game every night, and there are few goalies who can do that. I think having him back there is going to provide the rest of the team with a little more confidence. He’s intimidating simply because when you look at him in the net, there isn’t a lot of net to shoot at. I think he gets in the head of opposing shooters and gives us a leg up right away.”
I'll tell you this. With Luongo in net, I'll probably stop cringing whenever an opposing player takes a shot from center ice.
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