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Friday, January 5, 2007

We all know the importance of quality goaltending to a team’s ultimate success, but how do you measure a netminder’s net effect on a team’s overall performance? After applying layers of various detailed analysis, wins and losses usually define a goaltender’s standing.

That’s interesting because – as my Dad always told me – a goalie can’t win a game without goals being score by his teammates. Even if you play perfectly and turn in a shutout, if your team is unable to come up with a goal, the best you can do is tie. Obviously my Dad bestowed this fatherly advice years ago -- long before the advent of the shootout and the abolition of the notion of a tied game -- but you get the point.

The modern take on this ideal is that a goaltender’s job is to "give his team a chance to win" on a nightly basis. A nice sentiment indeed and true for the most part – until you hear coaches utter the flipside; “We need our goalie to steal us a game right now,” or as Jacques Lemaire recently said about his goaltending on the road; “It (the goaltending) has been average. We certainly need more than we’ve been getting.”

So with even the most basic tenet of goaltending – "giving your team a chance to win" -- prone to semantics and coach-speak interpretation, examples may prove more telling than definition.

Exhibit A is Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and Exhibit B is Robert Esche in Philadelphia.

Luongo has long had the reputation as one of the best puck-stoppers in the game despite playing for the perennial non-playoff team, the Florida Panthers. He consistently gave his team a chance to win in Florida, yet they never won quite enough. Out West, however, Luongo’s nightly consistency is putting the Canucks in a position to prevail over the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames and Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars.

Right now, the Canucks are finding just enough offense to make Luongo’s longstanding ability to keep his team in games carry credence -- noteworthy with the Canucks stringing together five-consecutive wins. That run catapulted them to the top of the tightly compacted Northwest Division at the mid-point of the season. In the big picture, that’s what the Canucks hoped for when they acquired Luongo before the season began.

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