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Captain Luongo Going Down With Canucks' Ship

May 8, 2010 – 12:40 PM
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Bruce Ciskie

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In hockey, the letter "C" stands for captain, and it's a sacred label. The captain of a hockey team doesn't call the coin flip at midfield before the game, and he doesn't have Joe Buck extolling his every virtue every time he bats.

Instead, a hockey captain is called on to lead. He is expected to raise his level of play when the team needs it most. He's expected to be the best player at times, and the hardest worker virtually all the time.

The Vancouver Canucks are the only team to have designated their goalie as the captain. While Roberto Luongo doesn't wear the "C" on his jersey, it's a mere formality. He's their captain.

In their playoff series against Chicago, however, Luongo has proven to be a failure, both as a goalie and -- by definition -- as a captain.

There isn't a more pressure-packed position in the sport than goaltender. You get all the credit when you stop 38 of 39 shots and your team wins 2-1. But when you can't stop a beach ball, or no one is clearing out lanes for you to see the puck flying at you, the opponent scores goals and you look incompetent.

Even when it's not your fault.

There has been plenty of this so far in the Canucks' series with Chicago. The Blackhawks have scored goals off bad turnovers, they've won battles for position in front of Luongo, and they've generally made his life a living hell.

He also hasn't helped himself. Here is Brent Seabrook's goal just 18 seconds into Friday's Game 4, a 7-4 Chicago win.

Simply put, Luongo has to stop that shot. It doesn't matter if he's the captain of the team. The goalie can set a positive tone -- or, in this case, a negative one -- for his team. Luongo helped no one, except the opponent, by letting in such a weak goal on the game's first shift.

Things got worse. The Canucks unraveled in the second period, committing a myriad of selfish, stupid, sometimes downright gutless penalties. They dug themselves a hole that Luongo couldn't get them out of at his best.

In the end, though, they needed more than Luongo gave them. He allowed soft goals, kicked out huge rebounds, and appeared at times to be a goalie with no confidence. When he's on, Luongo can spring from post to post as quickly as anyone. He's athletic, and his fundamentals are very sound.

When he isn't as confident in himself, you watch him move a little slower. He's less sure of his angles, and he doesn't challenge shooters as aggressively. That's how Luongo played Friday, and it isn't good enough.

Luongo hasn't handled the pressure well. Neither have his teammates. The fact that Dustin Byfuglien has so easily gotten into Luongo's head is as much the skaters' fault as it is Luongo's, but it's a fact the team has to deal with. Until they can figure out a way to keep Byfuglien away from their goalie (preferably without guys going to the penalty box while they're trying to do it), Vancouver is fighting a real uphill battle to come back in this series.

No one can say for sure that Luongo is collapsing under the pressure of being the team's most important player and its captain. It has to kill him to see them play like they did in that second period, when they lost emotional control and took penalties. He couldn't say a few quick words between shifts to calm the guys down like, say, Jonathan Toews can when that happens to Chicago.

Instead, he tried to let his play do his talking for him.

Now, Captain Luongo has one more chance to save his sinking season.
Filed under: Sports