Canada’s second straight Olympic hockey victory for its men’s team – a 6-0 shellacking of Austria – included many more positives than their first win at the Sochi Games. Chief among them was the play of goaltender Roberto Luongo, who stopped all 23 shots he saw Friday in his first action of the tournament.
With the focus immediately shifting to the Canadians’ third game Sunday against Finland, the debate will begin – hell, it already has begun – over which goalie will get the start: Luongo, who is playing in his second Olympics; or Canadiens star Carey Price, who was in net for Canada’s first game (a 3-1 win over Norway Thursday) and entered the Games as the presumptive favorite for the No. 1 role.
To be honest, I’m not quite sure why he ever deserved that label. Price has youth on his side in comparison to Luongo, but the latter was the starting goalie for the Vancouver 2010 team that is currently defending its championship title in Sochi. Luongo may not have lit the league on fire with his play this year, but it’s not as if Price is coming off a Stanley Cup victory or looked like the NHL’s best goalie entering the Olympic break.
What I’m saying is this: a little respect, people. It's the right thing for Canadian coach Mike Babcock to start Luongo against the Finns – and Luongo should be starting every game from this point on until he falters.
The 34-year-old has his Olympic experience and good-humored demeanor to lean on in this pressure-packed situation and deserves the opportunity to demonstrate he’s still capable of winning games at what is arguably hockey’s most demanding level. And really, can you say Price played better in Game 1 than Luongo did in Game 2? Not if you’re being honest, you can’t. Even if you’d argue there was a negligible difference between the performances of both goalies, I’d say a tie goes to the veteran.
Besides, let’s say Luongo underwhelms against Finland. Babcock goes to Price in relief of him, and then it’s Price’s job to lose. That's how these predicaments have to work. Carrying out the process this way is respectful of the guys in the dressing room who have been there before, yet allows for adjustments if necessary.
There’s nothing promised to either one of these guys, but there is something to be said for the devil you know. In this case, Luongo isn’t a devil. And until he affixes the goat horns to his head in one of the games to come, he’s absolutely the right choice to stay in Canada’s net.