I had the chance to watch the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs game 6 between the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks. Vancouver won the first three games of the series and Chicago has won the most recent two. The coach of the Canucks pulled a bold move in benching his starting goaltender, Roberto Luongo, for game 6. It had seemed that the recent play of Luongo versus the Blackhawks in the last two games (game 4 and game 5) where Luongo had let in 10 goals on 40 shots (for a save percentage of .750 over the two games) warranted a shake-up, in the coach’s mind. Typically, a good goalie will have a save percentage somewhere above .900 (meaning, the goalie will stop 9 pucks for every 10 shots he faces). Conversely, goalies who aren’t regarded so well, usually have save percentages that are below .900. Almost no starting goalies have save percentages below .850, much less .800!
Some fans have tried to draw meaning from patterns of Luongo’s play against the Blackhawks during other years of playoff games. For instance, last year, in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Chicago was the team that knocked Vancouver out of the playoffs, winning 4 games out of the 6. In the final three losses of the series, Luongo allowed 16 goals (game three: 5 goals; game four: 6 goals; game six: 5 goals). His save percentage in those three games: .821.
In the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks, again, were the team that eliminated the Canucks from the playoffs, winning 4 games out of the 6. In game 2, Luongo allowed 5 goals and in the game-deciding 6th game, Luongo allowed 7 goals. The evidence would lead one to believe that Luongo might have a tough time of it when the game is on the line, but I don’t think that’s the case.
In Luongo’s international play, he has won gold medals for Canada on 5 different occasions, most recently during the 2010 Winter Olympics that were held in Vancouver. Not only were the Olympics being held in Canada, they were being held in Luongo’s home building! This would also seem to negate the argument by some that Luongo has a hard go of things playing in his home building (looking at the stats, there seem to be more games where Luongo allows more goals when playing at home than playing on the road in the series against Chicago).
Luongo is not a ‘green’ or rookie goalie by any stretch of the imagination. He’s been around the block. In fact, he’s reached some pretty important milestones. Earlier this year, he became the 25th goalie to reach 300 wins. At the age of 32, he’s the 6th youngest goalie to reach 300 wins. In his NHL playing career, he’s never had a season with a save percentage below .900 and his career save percentage is .919, which puts him at 3rd all-time in career save percentage. Some would argue that save percentage is a useless stat given that the career save percentage leaderboard is full of goalies playing in today’s modern hockey era. When looking at career leaders for Goalie Point Shares (a system developed in an effort to more accurately measure a goalie’s performance), Luongo currently sits 11th. When looking at the single season leaders for this same stat, Luongo has 3 out of the top 10 seasons (including the #1 single season).
So, to say that Luongo is not a good goalie would be a fallacy in the largest way. There has to be something else at play here. You can’t even really say that Luongo doesn’t perform when the game is on the line. In probably the biggest game Luongo would play as professional hockey goaltender, against the United States in the Gold Medal Game, in Canada, in his home arena, being watched by over two-thirds of the country — the most-watched television broadcast in Canadian — that’s a big-time game. If he was going to crumble under pressure, it would have been there (he allowed 2 goals on 36 shots, save percentage = .944).
There really must be some other reason that Luongo can’t seem to exercise his “ghosts” with regard to playing against the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I haven’t watched all of these games (either this season or the last two seasons), so I can’t really say whether or not Luongo is being supported by his defense or if he’s just letting in what some would call “easy” goals. From just collecting some data for this post, it is clear to me that something else is at play.
There has to be some sort of energetic dissonance. Let me explain a little more. A few months ago, I wrote a post that briefly touched on the energetic relationship between baseball pitchers and their fielders and how there may be beliefs at play that affect the way players perform. Additionally, I pointed to the idea that there could also be a need for some work to be done on the energetic relationship of a team. There could be dissonance on an energetic level that requires work (just like when there are psychological issues you see a therapist). However, these energetic relationships are sometimes harder to see (with the naked eye). They need to be — for lack of a better word — intuited.
Game 7 between the Canucks and Blackhawks is Tuesday night in Vancouver. I have no idea how well Luongo (or the Canucks) will play. If Luongo and/or the Canucks enlist the services of someone capable of effecting change on an energetic level, I have no doubt that the Canucks will win the game (as they have seemed to have been then better team all year — capturing the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the NHL). If the team fails to recognize that there is an energetic dissonance, it is quite possible that the Blackhawks send the Canucks to early “tee-times” for the third straight year.