We can only hope, or imagine, that Mike Babcock will be keeping an eye on Thursday night’s game. Hoping, because Babcock will be coaching both the Canadiens starting goalie, Carey Price and the Canucks’ Roberto Luongo when they suit up for Team Canada at the upcoming Olympic Games, and only one can be the starting goalie in Sochi. If you don’t yet have your Montreal Canadiens tickets, now might be a good time.
Canada’s roster was unveiled on January 7th and almost immediately after the dust settled, given some notable omissions, attention moved directly to who should or will start in goal when Canada takes to the ice. Most feel Luongo’s previous Gold Medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is enough to guarantee him the starting position, but Canadiens fans will be pushing for Price to play his way to the front. He certainly has in the last month.
— Louis Litt (@johnsflam) January 31, 2014
Unfortunately, there is a good chance that Thursday’s match up between the two likely contenders to start in nets, no disrespect to Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes who is Canada’s third goalie, won’t mean anything to Babcock who has already decided to split the first two Olympic games against Norway on February 13th and Finland on February 16th before deciding who will be the team’s starting goalie:
Babcock: Will split goalies in games 1 and 2. The guy they go with in Game 3 will probably run with it.
— Hockey Central (@SNHockeyCentral) February 4, 2014
That doesn’t mean we can’t speculate, because fans of both teams will be campaigning for their own to be first-string.
The game is important enough for both teams without the Olympic pressure. Both have struggled recently, to say the least. The Canucks have lost 5 in a row and are currently 8th in the Western Conference. The Canadiens are 4th in the East but are 4-5-1 in their last 10 and have looked outmatched in the majority of those games. The two teams will be looking to enter the break on a high and have only two games remaining in which to regain some momentum.
Luongo and Price are sure to go head to head on Thursday and while a frenzy of media questions about Sochi are sure to abound prior to the match, both netminders will likely focus on their respective NHL teams with the hopes of getting two points.
Carey Price has 130 saves on 134 shots in 4 starts, a .970 Sv%. Was asked twice about being hot for Sochi. Basically ignored the question.
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) February 5, 2014
That said, both goalies can’t help but feel some internal competition going into the match. Anyone who has the honour to don Canada`s jersey wants to play. It`s certainly Luongo`s spot to lose given his international experience. Luongo has a history of big game competition including medals at the World Juniors, the World Cup, 3 World Championships and the 2010 Olympics – and those are just his medal years. Whereas Price is best known for his World Junior Championships where his outstanding performance in a seven-round shootout ensured that Canada would play for Gold in 2007.
Experience will matter when it comes to goaltending on the big ice surface in Sochi, Russia. However, if this season’s performance bears any weight on Babcock’s decision, Price has the upper hand. Price is the main reason the Habs haven’t lost ten in a row. He has played lights out in his last five games with 2 shutouts and an astounding .947 SV%. His 24 wins in 46 games have him ranked 6th and his 1,277 saves is ranked 3rd.
— Matthew Macaskill (@Habsology) February 5, 2014
Luongo for his part is struggling, likely due to consecutive groin and ankle injuries that had him sidelined for 9 games at the end of December and early January. He hasn`t had much help recently from his team, but still his numbers have struggled with a .889 SV% in his last 5 games. However, he is still a top ranked goalie and his 17 wins in 40 games are good for 15th in the league.
On paper, Thursday`s game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Montreal Canadiens will be another important NHL match up. But for the fans, goalie pride will be on the line; for Luongo and Price, personal pride will be on the line; and for Canadians, it will be a chance to see Canada`s wondrous goaltending talent up close.
It`s a moment not to be missed.